by Hope Madden
Adele Lim’s Joy Ride puts the R in raunchy comedy, but beneath a by-the-numbers R-rated roadtrip is a smart, irreverent, confident tale about owning your identity.
The film opens on Day 1 of the friendship between Audrey & Lolo in the funniest comeuppance scene since the 1993 Thanksgiving pageant at Wednesday Addams’s summer camp. The two are fast friends, even though Audrey (Ashley Park) is ambitious, applied, and constantly proving herself while Lolo (Sherry Cola) makes sex positive art instead of working in her parents’ Chinese restaurant.
But Audrey is about to make partner and move to LA, while Lolo is still living in Audrey’s garage, getting high, making art and enjoying dick.
It’s a phrase you should definitely get used to.
Though Lolo is not the film’s centerpiece, the way the character upends stereotypes about women generally and about Asian women specifically is part of the film’s success. Lim and co-writers Cherry Chevapravatdumrong and Teresa Hsiao use the beats of a familiar story to undermine its relatively misogynistic history. Joy Ride is more than just smart, racially savvy, sexually open and foul mouthed.
Park is an excellent vehicle for both the core idea of claiming your identity and the necessary schmaltz at the heart of any raunchy comedy. But she is not carrying the comedic burden. Leave that to Cola and Audrey’s other two travel companions, Deadeye (Sabrina Wu, hilarious) and Kat (Stephanie Hsu, hello glorious!).
The commentary on microaggressions, aggressive aggression, all manner of racism, and glass ceilings feels honest, sometimes brave, often borderline (and joyously) lewd.
Don’t be confused. The plot itself is dumb as hell. It’s a roadtrip (well, it’s more of a globe trot) as the four pals travel through China to support Audrey as she lands the big client that will mean a big promotion. Hijinks do what they do best, they ensue.
Not every wild situation lands. Each emotional climax feels destined, obvious. But somehow, even well-worn tropes feel revolutionary when claimed by a filmmaking team (director, all writers, all leads) of nothing but Asian women.