The crude comedy outdoes competitors with undeniably funny jokes, interpersonal dynamics, and genuine heart.
Joy Ride is a film filled with rude and crude jokes throughout and often fairly ramshackle in its construction. Those with more delicate constitutions may be chagrined to discover it tends to reduce its few Caucasian characters of note to little more than punchlines. It also contains—let me consult the next page of my notes—more big laughs than any other film I’ve seen so far this year. Plus, carefully layered among its more outrageous elements, you’ll find a surprising amount of heart. The result is both a genuine delight and a wonderful alternative to the soul-deadening blockbusters that have glutted multiplexes this summer.
Audrey (Ashley Park) and Lolo (Sherry Cola) have been best friends since childhood, the only two Asian kids in the Washington suburb where they grew up and still live. The former works as an ambitious lawyer hoping to make partner at her firm, which would necessitate a move to L.A. and separation from Lolo. Unaware of her friend’s plans to leave, the latter ekes out a vague living making sex-positive art while living in Audrey’s guest house.
Based on the assumption that she can speak Mandarin, Audrey’s boss sends her to China to close a big business deal that should propel her to partner. Since Audrey cannot actually speak anything but English—she was adopted as an infant by a white American couple—she elects to bring Lolo along as her translator. Joining them on the journey is Deadeye (Sabrina Wu), Lolo’s odd K-Pop-obsessed cousin. Once they arrive, they meet up with Kat (Stephanie Hsu), Audrey’s old college roommate. She’s now a rising actress trying to keep her co-star/fiancee from learning about her somewhat sordid past sexual escapades.
Because it would be no fun if Audrey got her work done with no muss or fuss, complications quickly ensue. Through various contrivances, her success at closing the deal becomes contingent on finding her birth mother. Further complicating the quest is the quartet immediately losing their cash, means of travel, and passports after being framed for smuggling an enormous amount of drugs across the country by the actual mule (Meredith Hagner).
This necessitates a rescue by basketball player Baron Davis (playing himself), Lolo’s erotic pen pal. After nearly destroying his teammates at the hotel that night with their various dance, exercise, and sex-related escapades, the friends find themselves stranded once more. Seemingly, only a gonzo plan to impersonate a K-Pop ground can get them to their final destination.
[The jokes] will inspire laughter from all but the most churlish and easily offended of viewers.
There are tricky interpersonal dynamics on display as well. For one, Lolo and Kat wage a not-so-subtle battle to prove who is Audrey’s true bestie. Meanwhile, Deadeye tries to keep the peace in their own decidedly weirdo manner, certain the group will soon leave them behind.
On paper, the film may sound like a mashup of Crazy Rich Asians (which director/co-writer Adele Lim helped to adapt to the screen) and Bridesmaids, but it proves to be smarter and more ambitious than that. Not to mention infinitely funnier. For starters, Lim and co-writers Cherry Chevapravatdumrong and Teresa Hsiao come up with any number of jokes and sight gags that demonstrate a refreshingly unique and specific cultural and gender perspective. They will inspire laughter from all but the most churlish and easily offended of viewers. The film also benefits mightily from the inspired comedic byplay between the four leads. Even when the occasional clunker of a joke comes up, they salvage them with how well they play off each other.
Of course, it wouldn’t be a raunchy contemporary comedy if there wasn’t a point where things take a slightly more serious stab at sincerity. Unlike the current No Hard Feelings, where the sentimental shift comes across as largely forced and unconvincing, the turn here, although not without its hiccups, feels more organic to the material. It ties intelligently in with Audrey’s heretofore unexamined questions regarding her place in the world without getting too overly preachy.
Admittedly, Joy Ride is occasionally uneven. The narrative is a bit messy and unfocused at times. The ending is just a little too eager to please for its own good. And yet, even these stumbles are largely forgivable thanks to the always-likable cast, the above-average hit-to-miss ratio of the jokes, and the genuine charm of the four co-leads. I have no idea how well a modestly scaled and adult-oriented comedy might score at the box office in this current uncertain climate. What I do know is anyone seeing it will likely recall it longer and with more genuine fondness than any other current major releases.
Joy Ride gases up in theatres July 7.