Joy Ride (United States/United Kingdom, 2023)

July 06, 2023
A movie review by James Berardinelli
Joy Ride Poster

When the focus is on comedy, Joy Ride hits and misses with gusto and some of its most outrageous gags deliver big laughs. The problem is that co-creator/director Adele Lim has delusions of crafting a dramatic foundation for the humor and the sincerity with which some of these “serious” scenes is played can be cringeworthy. The result is a bunch of amusing jokes interspersed with a treacly soap opera-level storyline about family and friendship. It’s almost as if Lim felt embarrassed about making the raunchy comedy the focal point of her film but her attempts to give Joy Ride something loftier are misplaced and artificial.

Over the years, the genre of bawdy comedies has shown greater diversity than many other movie types. Although the most obvious antecedent for Joy Ride is The Hangover, the film joins the likes of Bridesmaids and Girls Trip in showing that drug binges, sexual escapades, and general lewdness aren’t just the purview of (white) guys. The “twist” here is that the four protagonists are women of Asian descent and the director identifies as Malaysian-American. The diversity should be applauded; unfortunately, the movie’s glaring weaknesses illustrate that failure is no respecter of ethnicity or skin color.

Joy Ride opens with a prologue that details the beginning of the longtime friendship between Audrey (Ashley Park) and Lolo (Sherry Cola). Decades after first meeting on a playground as kids, these two continue to live entwined lives. When a business trip to China offers the adopted Audrey a chance to connect with her birth mother, Lolo agrees to come along to act as a combination support system/translator. (Lola speaks Mandarin; Audrey does not.) Joining the intrepid duo on the flight is Lolo’s socially awkward, K-Pop-loving cousin, Deadeye (Sabrina Wu). Once in Beijing, they connect with Audrey’s college roommate Kat (Stephanie Hsu), who stars in a popular Chinese TV show and is engaged to marry her co-star. The four embark on a road trip to track down Audrey’s mother – a trip that takes them not only to other parts of China but to Seoul, Korea as well.

The cast is a mixed bag. Sherry Cola and Stephanie Hsu (Supporting Actress Oscar nomination for Everything Everywhere All at Once) show impeccable comedic timing as well as a laudable ability not to choke on some of the more awkward “serious” dialogue. Sabrina Wu, making her feature debut, is in need of seasoning. Her over-the-top performance works when the comedy goes off-the-rails but is grating at other times. Meanwhile, Ashley Park, whose background is primarily in live theater, is uneven. She’s fine with the physical comedy but her dialogue delivery is often flat and she rarely conveys emotion effectively. This is a problem because Joy Ride’s dubious dramatic elements demand that viewers have a strong bond with this weakly portrayed character.

There’s a rule of thumb that the more debauched the comedy, the more difficult it is to have a heartwarming undercurrent. (Judd Apatow being the counter-example.) In this case, the juvenile aspect of the humor bleeds into the drama, pretty much spoiling everything. While it’s possible to conceive a compelling story constructed out of the strands forming Joy Ride’s threadbare cloak, that narrative would require a better screenplay and a series of grounded, less ostentatious performances. The quartet of actors starring in this movie are on hand to do slapstick, cheesy musical numbers, and other similar things. When they pivot to try something emotionally naked, it doesn’t work. The climactic scene, which takes place in a restaurant, is so bad that it almost works as self-parody. Almost. For anyone with an interest, this one goes in the “wait until it’s available for streaming” category.

Joy Ride (United States/United Kingdom, 2023)

Director: Adele Lim
Cast: Ashley Park, Sherry Cola, Stephanie Hsu, Sabrina Wu
Home Release Date: 2023-09-12
Screenplay: Cherry Chevapravatdumrong & Teresa Hsiao
Cinematography: Paul Yee
Music: Nathan Matthew David
U.S. Distributor: Lionsgate
Run Time: 1:35
U.S. Home Release Date: 2023-09-12
MPAA Rating: "R" (Profanity, Sexual Situations, Drugs, Nudity)
Genre: Comedy/Drama
Subtitles: In English, Mandarin, and Korean with subtitles
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1