3 out of 5 stars

Adele Lim’s raunchy comedy Joy Ride opens with the awkward first meeting between young Audrey (Lennon Lee) and Lolo (Chloe Pun), the only two Chinese girls in an all-white American neighbourhood. And once the pugnacious Lolo decks a bully for his discrimination concerning a playground slide, she and Audrey become BFFs.

Two decades later, the pair are still friends but have grown into two very different people: Audrey (Ashley Park) is now the stereotype of the model Asian American, while Lolo (Sherry Cola) has become a sex-positive artist and hot mess. Thanks to her parents, Lolo still maintains ties with the Old Country, and these attachments inspire her and her K-pop-loving cousin “Dead-eye” (Sabrina Wu) to tag along on Audrey’s trip to Beijing to land a major client and earn a partnership at her law firm.

In Beijing, the trio run into Audrey’s old college roommate Kat (Stephanie Hsu), who’s become a major TV star and is betrothed to her Christian co-star Clarence (Desmond Chiam), who’s “saving it for marriage” and seems to know nothing about Kat’s randy past.

With the film’s inner springs wound up like a clock, director Adele Lim and writers Cherry Chevapravatdumrong and Teresa Hsiao unleash a fusillade of slapstick set pieces whose ribald and often seriously gross gags play like a blustering Asian American feminist response to the male-centred raunch classic The Hangover (2009). There’s even a nod to the Hope and Crosby “Road” comedies of the 1940s, which dealt with Americans and their misadventures in foreign countries.

Though squarely aimed at Asian American audiences, Joy Ride also joins the parade of gross-out feminist comedies such as Bridesmaids (2011), Trainwreck (2015), and the BBC series Fleabag (2016-19). Like those productions, Joy Ride (once titled The Joy Fuck Club) has no manners and holds no seats for the prudish and the proper. For slapstick fans, Joy Ride is good dirty fun for most of its runtime, and it’s good to see a movie kick loose in our more uptight era—where sex, at times, threatens to disappear from the big screen altogether.

Filming exclusively around Vancouver, Canada, Lim and cinematographer Paul Lee often find ingenious ways to trick us into thinking we’re in China… where, in reality, I imagine they’d otherwise still be long-time guests of the Chinese state. Though the movie sometimes tries too hard, the cast (especially Sherry Cola and Sabrina Wu) plays the music of farce with enough aplomb as they bravely fling themselves over numerous moon-sized plot holes, somehow landing on the other side. How the quartet manage to make their way through totalitarian China after losing their passports, luggage, and money is best responded to with suspension of disbelief.

Towards the end, unfortunately, Joy Ride breaks its fun tone with a turn toward sincere melodrama as Audrey sets off on a dramatic search for her Chinese roots. The issue of modern Asian American identity is certainly pressing to its target audience, but the gulf between fans of gross-out farce and those of more thoughtful dramas (such as the recent Korean romance Past Lives) is a wide one. Seldom do the two sit comfortably together. After a strenuous hour spent getting us to laugh (and often succeeding), the film suddenly tries to instead elicit heartfelt tears and heavy thoughts. And once it makes that fateful turn, Joy Ride becomes a slow ride… and has a hard time getting us to laugh again.

Comedy fans may feel stranded at this point, while drama lovers will likely have checked out long before. This clash of broad comedy with emotional realism nullifies Joy Ride‘s raunchy spirit and only leaves confusion in its wake. Back in the olden days, the rule was ‘always leave ‘em laughing’, but nowadays it seems to be ‘leave ‘em weeping.’ Call me old-fashioned, but I’m not sure that’s an improvement.


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Cast & Crew

director: Adele Lim.
writers: Cherry Chevapravatdumrong & Teresa Hsiao (story by Cherry Chevapravatdumrong & Adele Lim).
starring: Ashley Park, Sherry Cola, Stephanie Hsu, Sabrina Wu, Ronny Chieng, Meredith Hagner, David Denman, Annie Mumolo, Timothy Simons, Daniel Dae Kim & Desmond Chiam.