Often hilarious and moving, Adele Lim’s anticipated directorial debut Joy Ride takes the girls-trip formula (see: Bridesmaids and, of course, Girls Trip) in both new and familiar directions, crossing borders and breaking boundaries. Meeting as the only two Asian kids on the playground in a Norman Rockwell-esque, all-white town in the Pacific Northwest (aptly named White Falls), Audrey and Lolo become fast friends. But they couldn’t be any more different––while Audrey’s adoptive but somewhat uncomfortable guardians (David Denman and Annie Mumolo) encourage her academic pursuits and law career, Lolo’s successful parents accept her as a rebel artist making work about sexual liberation in everyday objects.

25 years later, Lolo (Sherry Cola) lives in the guest house behind Audrey (Ashley Park), now a successful corporate attorney who’s dispatched to China to close a deal for her firm. She brings Lolo along as a “translator” to help close the deal; along the way they meet up with Audrey’s college BFF Kat (Everything Everywhere All at Once’s Stephanie Hsu), an action movie star celebrating years of celibacy. Also along for the ride is Lolo’s non-binary K-Pop devotee cousin Vanessa aka Deadeye (Sabrina Wu), whose skills and online network will come in handy later. Cracks start to show in the relationship as Lolo resents Kat, even as they come to appreciate each other in truly bizarre situations, showing they can keep pace with some strange customs––including a drinking game embraced by wealthy businessmen that involves slapping each other until someone passes out. 

Written by Cherry Chevapravatdumrong and Teresa Hsiao, both alum of the unhinged animated sitcom Family Guy, Joy Ride demystifies cultural differences in the Asian community. This is especially evident in a funny scene that takes place in the airport upon Lolo, Audrey, and Deadeye’s arrival in Beijing. If anything, this Seth Rogen-produced comedy proves these ladies can keep up with the boys, inviting everyone along for the ride.

Most of the one-liners and comic set pieces landed at the film’s SXSW premiere, with an improved K-pop music number set to Cardi B’s “WAP” getting the biggest laugh towards the end of the second act, along with a chance encounter with an American basketball team that picks the ladies up outside of the city and gives them a ride. What follows is one of the more outrageous, hilarious sex scenes in recent memory, complete with a dance number and acrobatics.

Through it all, a deep, authentic look at friendship holds the film in place with characters that are perhaps a little more developed than usual for a comedy. Park’s Audrey isn’t just an uptight, career-obsessed lawyer, but someone who is forced to walk a fine line in the office, embracing her Asian-American identity while lacking a deep connection to her culture. The third act pays off majorly with a touching moment recalling one of the best films from last year, Davy Chou’s Return to Seoul, as Audrey seeks information regarding her birth mother. 

Despite very few moments that don’t quite work (such as an encounter with an American blonde on a train that’s fairly predictable), Joy Ride is a hilarious, high-energy film that follows the road trip genre closely before subverting in its own way.

Joy Ride premiered at SXSW 2023 and opens on July 7.

Grade: B

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