"Joy Ride" is the big, broad, studio comedy to beat this year, an incredible directorial debut with one of the funniest scripts in a while, and a cast that should get all the praise in the world because they just became the dynamic quartet to watch.
Ashley Park plays Audrey, an Asian woman raised in the U.S. by her adoptive white parents in suburban Washington. Given how monolithic their community is, it's no wonder Audrey would end up becoming best friends with Lolo (Sherry Cola), the only other Asian American kid in town. What starts as a convenience, however, quickly develops into a beautiful, if a bit dysfunctional, friendship. While Audrey rises to become a prominent lawyer with a lifetime of achievements and successes, Lolo still doesn't get out of the starving stage of the life of an artist, crashing at Audrey's guest house while trying to convince anyone that her very lewd art — like a diorama of the playground where she and Audrey met, but made entirely out of phalluses.
The film lives and dies by this friendship, and it is impressive to see how quickly "Joy Ride" manages to create a strong bond between the two characters. Park and Cola have instant chemistry, and it feels not as much improvised — though there is a lot of improvisation in the dialogue — but naturalistic and organic. You see their years of friendship in the way they are comfortable around each other, and when they inevitably fight, you feel for them both.
A Raunchy Good Time
The plot involves Audrey getting tasked with closing an important contract with a new client — who happens to be Chinese. Despite what she told the people at her office, Audrey doesn't know any Mandarin and is not really that connected to Chinese traditions and customs. Still, she does want to make partner at her law firm, so she employs Lolo to help translate as they travel to China to close the deal in person. They are also unexpectedly joined by Lolo's awkward K-Pop-loving cousin, Deadeye (an incredible Sabrina Wu), and later by Audrey's college roommate turned TV star, Kat (Oscar-nominee Stephanie Hsu).
"Joy Ride" is a hilarious film that has all the female friendship fun and authenticity of something like "Girls Trip" with the sheer absurd and raunchy humor of a Judd Apatow movie — which makes sense since the film is produced by Seth Rogen. The raunchy humor should not come as a surprise given that the film is written by Cherry Chevapravatdumrong and Teresa Hsiao, who have plenty of experience writing for the rather raunchy and successful "Family Guy."
The result of this partnership is a film that doesn't erase decades of exoticization and sexualization of Asian women as much as it reclaims the narrative and allows a group of Asian American women to be messy, to be horny, and to be hilarious. Lim doesn't just sit on her laurels and allows the script to do the heavy lifting, however, as she recognizes the value of physical comedy — whether it is an American girl forcing the group to hide her contraband of drugs on a moving train, an absurdly long sex scene, or a phenomenal music video that spirals out of control.
An Exploration Of Cultural Identity
What makes "Joy Ride" not just a really funny raunchy comedy, but a phenomenal film overall is how it weaves in cultural specificity and themes of cultural identity into its characters and plot without overwhelming the jokes. From the very beginning, Audrey's disconnect from Chinese culture and her apparent refusal to connect to her roots is an intricate part of her story and her relationship with her friends. It's easy to identify with Audrey's desire to be more than the token Asian girl, and want to distance herself from that heritage, while also feeling bad that she is missing out on a part of herself.
The film also has one of the best comedy casts in years. Not only are Park and Cola fantastic, but Stephanie Hsu brings a post-Oscar nomination performance that shows she is here to stay, kick-ass, and learn names. The film also uses her Broadway background in rather fantastic ways. All that said, this movie belongs to Sabrina Wu's Deadeye, the awkward cousin with a heart of gold that is also navigating their own identity crisis as they struggle with gender norms and whether or not internet friends are real friends.
/Film Rating: 9 out of 10
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