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Joy Ride

Updated: Aug 12, 2023

The breakout comedy of the year mixes talent behind and in front of the camera

Films exploring what it means to be an immigrant in the US have become increasingly visible as non-white voices have been amplified in recent decades. From the gentle observations of Minari (2020), to the touching despair of The Farewell (2019), and the aching confusion of Past Lives (2023). The latest (curiously also from an Asian-American perspective) to delve into this subject does so with the raunchy comedy format.

Joy Ride (2023) is the story of four American friends who travel through China. Lawyer Audrey (Ashley Park) leads the group on her work trip. Along comes her uninhibited artist best friends Lolo (Sherry Cola), and Lolo’s socially awkward cousin Deadeye (Sabrina Wu). In Beijing they meet up with the successful television actress and Audrey’s old college roommate Kat (Stephanie Hsu). A mixture of clashing dynamics between the friends and the search for Audrey’s biological mother ensue.

Joy Ride is the directorial debut of Alice Lim who first broke her teeth as a screenwriter on the likes of Crazy Rich Asians (2018) and Raya and the Last Dragon (2021). Lim shares story credit in Joy Ride and brings her familiar yet continually fresh take on culture clashes. However, while the two previously mentioned films featured heavy exposition into their respective worlds, Joy Ride is liberated to simply plop into Beijing and explore character instead. This proves to be crucial not only in developing an intriguing story, but also for crafting organic comedic situations that develop the story instead of interrupting it.

Lim is completely freed by producers Evan Goldberg and Seth Rogen to take her humor to risky places, a continuing gag on a vagina tattoo particularly pays off. Unlike lesser comedies, Joy Ride also knows when to push a joke to its limit and when to pull back. Lim is careful not to let the laughs and gags overtake her story either, and intelligently knows when to allow emotional scenes to unfold at their pace. This aids in showcasing three-dimensional characters whose fates we care about.

One of the greatest assets in Joy Ride is its main cast. Each of the four leading women would have been the breakout supporting character in another comedy. However, their combined talents in Joy Ride make for a mountain of riches that feels like watching master comedians play a four-sided tennis match. Park takes the reins as the no-nonsense leading lady without coming off as a party-pooper. She also hits the serious notes with effective aplomb. Cola and Hsu have a constant bickering that could have become obnoxious in other hands, but the two actresses make their interactions the highlights of each scene. Wu takes on the more stereotypical “weird” friend (think Zack Galifianakis in The Hangover (2009)), and while they’re mostly sidelined, Wu still manages to breathe an emotional dimension to their character.

Joy Ride could have easily coasted off sex jokes and the dynamics of the cast, much as Girls Trip (2017) did to great success. However, the film seeks to comment and explore on the complex and confusing identity crisis that many immigrants feel. This is exacerbated when investigating the search for self-definition of an adoptedimmigrant. As such, Joy Ride takes some surprising turns in its narrative, challenging viewers whenever we get too comfortable. Given such difficult questions, Joy Ride makes it more difficult to deliver a satisfying resolution, yet it sticks its landing with a heartful and emotional finale that had many in my theater sniffling.

While Joy Ride does not break the structural mold of ensemble comedies, it does bring about a fresh perspective and a talented cast of should-be-stars. The insightful directing from rookie Lim alongside a strong script produces the breakout comedy of the year.



About Young Critic

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I've been writing on different version of this website since February of 2013. I originally founded the website in a film-buff phase in high school, but it has since continued through college and into my adult life. Young Critic may be getting older, but the love and passion for film is forever young. 

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