Adele Lim, writer of films like Crazy Rich Asians and Raya and the Last Dragon, makes the leap to director with Joy Ride, a gleefully raunchy comedy about a group of friends on a fateful trip to China. 


Ashley Park stars as Audrey, the Chinese-born daughter of white adoptive parents in America. Sherry Cola is her lifelong best friend, Lolo, a Chinese American who maintains close ties with her extended family in China and her roots there. Along for the ride are Oscar nominee Stephanie Hsu as Kat, Audrey’s college roommate who is now a successful actor in China; and Sabrina Wu as “Deadeye”, Lolo’s awkward, gender non-conforming cousin. With Lim behind the camera and writers Cherry Chevapravatdumrong and Teresa Hsiao, Joy Ride is the natural heir to films such as Bridesmaids and Girls Trip in expanding the playground for who gets to star in raunchy comedies. 

Audrey is uptight and career-driven, while Lolo is a free spirit, an artist who makes kitschy, sexually explicit sculptures. Their friendship formed in childhood by virtue of being practically the only Asians in their white Seattle suburb, but despite this necessity and their differences as adults, their friendship remains strong and true. The casting of Joy Ride is brilliant, the core ensemble is extremely believable as a friend group, whether it’s Audrey and Lolo’s ride-or-die connection, Kat and Lolo’s college roommate/childhood friend competitiveness, or Deadeye’s awkward but sincere attempts to integrate into the group. As was the case with Bridesmaids, a strong ensemble turns the film’s best bits into greatness and sells even the weakest bits as amusing. 


Stephanie Hsu already proved her bona fides in Everything Everywhere All At Once, but here she reveals solid comedy chops and a range that covers everything from dumb physical gags to the kind of high-level dramatic emoting we saw in EEAAO. Wu is very funny as Deadeye, and Cola gives a go-for-broke performance that is VERY funny, but Park is an absolute star as Audrey (Emily In Paris is worth it just to be a stepping stone for Park). She is, essentially, the straight woman of the group, as Audrey is the serious, driven friend trying to close a big business deal to make partner at her firm. But her uptight, tense energy only makes it funnier when Audrey gets sucked into the hijinks, and Park brilliantly sells both Audrey’s collapsing walls as the trip devolves into total chaos, and the more heartfelt moments in the final act, as Audrey searches for her birth mother in China. 


If No Hard Feelings puts sentiment before raunch, Joy Ride puts raunch before sentiment, as Joy Ride is packed with laughs and only gets sentimental right at the end. There are visual gags, sex jokes, and gross out gags aplenty, but the third act of the film sidelines the humor for the heart. It feels a little unbalanced, as the comedy almost completely stops while Audrey and her friends sort their sh-t out, which is a slight letdown after the earlier portion of the film does such a good job grounding realer moments in comedic beats. There is an instance of in-group racism that made the white people sitting around me in the theater gasp and then laugh out loud—at least partly a nervous release of tension raised by the deliberate awkwardness of the scene—that is a perfect example of blending a more thematic element with a fantastic joke that is missing in the final act.

Most of Joy Ride strikes this balance, but the film is tackling big issues of identity, race, expectations, ambition, and boundaries—each character is limited in some way, either by external forces like Kat’s super Christian fiancé who doesn’t know about her sexual past, or internal forces like Audrey’s sense of disconnect with her Chinese heritage—so it’s inevitable that eventually the balance of the tone shifts to something more serious to wrap up these emotional threads. The film would be better served, though, if these heavier elements were better integrated throughout, rather than dumped at the end to be resolved all at once. It’s a noticeable tonal shift and loss of momentum from the earlier, hilarious portions of the film.


Also, Adele Lim struggles a bit with the framing of the film. Comedy, like dance numbers, lives in the wide shot, but there are many reactions we miss simply because characters are cut out of frame. With such a strong ensemble, it would be nice to gauge each character’s reactions to the various jokes and gags throughout the film, but we miss a lot due to the poor framing. In some ways, Joy Ride looks great—it’s colorful, well lit, real locations are well used, visual gags are cleverly built and revealed—but the persistent issue of shuffling some of the actors out of frame is annoying. They’re too good to cut out!

On balance, though, Joy Ride is a very funny, proudly dirty comedy with a solid backbone of good characters, great acting, and an interesting premise. (And, at a merciful 95 minutes, it’s a breath of fresh air among the landscape of three-hour films this summer.) Audrey’s quest to locate her birth mother gives the travel plot of the film a little firmer footing than a typical ensemble comedy, and if the film overcorrects in the direction of sentiment at the end, well, these fantastic actors deliver on the emotional beats, too. 


Joy Ride is just that, a joy, a comedy that is delightfully dirty and surprisingly sweet. 

This review was published during the WGA strike of 2023. The work being reviewed would not exist without the labor of writers. Joy Ride is exclusively in theaters from July 7, 2023.