Every culture has its defining traits, some of which are positive and others which are negative. There’s also the internal perception as well as the external one, and for minority groups, certain stereotypes may be presumed to exist, which can be demeaning and irritating. It’s refreshing, therefore, to see films that celebrate representation and aim to do so authentically, combining humor and a sense of realism that feels only slightly exaggerated for the moviegoing experience. Joy Ride is a superb example of that which manages to be heartwarming in the few moments that it’s not focused on being raunchy and hilarious.
Audrey (Ashley Park) and Lolo (Sherry Cola) have been best friends since they were kids, when they met on a playground and the adopted Audrey was wowed by Lolo’s foul-mouthed defense when another kid called her a derogatory Asian slur. A work trip to China is an opportunity for the two to travel together with Lolo serving as the hard-working lawyer Audrey’s translator, but things start to go awry when Lolo mentions that her cousin Deadeye (Sabrina Wu) is also coming along for the ride. Once they arrive and meet up with Audrey’s friend Kat (Stephanie Hsu), a successful actress, the true hijinks begin as they discover what it means to be friends and how that makes their unforgettable trip as Asian-Americans in China.
Joy Ride marks the directorial debut of Adele Lim, best known for her work on the screenplays for Crazy Rich Asians and Raya and the Last Dragon, two remarkably different films that showcase strong Asian representation. Her latest effort is a firmly R-rated endeavor that finds its characters frequently indulging in over-the-top scenarios and not turning back. The stakes are often unbelievably high and it doesn’t all make logical sense, but when everyone is clearly having such a good time, it’s easy to forgive any plot points if they don’t take away from the overall enjoyable experience.
This foursome is indeed fabulous, and it’s fun to see how they play off each other. Park, best known for her Tony-nominated turn in Mean Girls and for her supporting role as the title character’s best friend Mindy in Emily in Paris, plays the most serious of the four, someone deeply determined to be perceived as successful. Hsu, fresh off an Oscar nomination for Everything Everywhere All at Once, creates an effective portrait of someone trying to maintain a certain reputation but yearning for everything that contradicts that. Wu, making their feature film debut, adds depth to a character who could be a peculiar distraction and instead is one of the most magnetic parts of this film.
This is the second film of 2023 that Cola can be credited as carrying. Like in Randall Park’s Shortcomings, which debuted at Sundance, Cola makes the talkative, opinionated, sarcastic best friend role so much more than that. She goes all in at every opportunity, never missing a chance to give someone a hard time, and it’s particularly enjoyable to see Lolo and Kat compete for closeness with Audrey, resorting to pettiness when they should all be behaving like adults. But that’s not hardly the point of this heightened comedy that goes big and just keeps going at multiple points, and then finds time to get sentimental and serve up some surprising sweetness that pays tributes to the cultural identities of these characters who aren’t typically represented in this way on screen. Joy Ride is a blast, a film that simultaneously sends up and celebrates its characters and their backgrounds.
Joy Ride opens in theatres on Friday, July 7th.