Review: Joy Ride Sees Four Friends on a Journey with Plenty of Laughs, Heart and Sex

So apparently the morality police have fully returned to power, and the ’80s have officially returned in every corner of the entertainment world. On the rare occasion that an R-rated comedy that features a whole slew of bad words and perhaps even a moment of sex and/or nudity, people get up in arms, clutching the pearls so tightly they risk cutting off circulation to the brain. But the truth is, the sex comedy isn’t what it used to be, if for no other reason than filmmakers are going for something with more heart, diversity, and laughs. With the recent No Hard Feelings and this weeks Joy Ride, it’s women leading the charge and looking for something that’s missing from their lives, whether it’s money, connection, success, or validation.

From first-time director/co-writer Adele Lim (who had a hand in writing Crazy Rich Asians and Raya and the Last Dragon) and co-writers Cherry Chevapravatdumrong (Awkwafina Is Nora from Queens) and former Family Guy staff writer Teresa Hsiao, Joy Ride is the joyously vulgar story of four friends (who happen to all be Asian women) who take an international adventure to China when Audrey (Ashley Park) must take a business trip to Beijing to close an important deal for her law firm. She decides to bring her best friend since childhood Lolo (Sherry Cola), who can’t seem to get her life together. But Lolo's parents speak Mandarin, so she at least knows the language. For no particular reason, Lolo’s bizarre cousin Deadeye (Sabrina Wu) also goes along to ensure that every conceivable moment is made a little more awkward. As soon as they arrive, they meet up with Audrey’s college best friend Kat (recent Oscar nominee Stephanie Hsu), who is now the star of a popular Chinese soap opera.

The trip is different for Audrey because she was adopted as a baby by a white couple, growing up in the fictional town of White Hills, Washington, with Lolo being the only other Asian kid in the community. When she meets with the client, she is accused of not caring about her Asian roots and is chastised for not even trying to seek out her birth mother. When she lies to the client about going to visit her mother, he invites Audrey and her mom to a party in a few days, and the ladies must shift their vacation plans to go searching for Audrey’s birth mother, a journey which gets them ripped off, lost, and in a whole lot of sexual hijinks with a basketball team. It’s an absolute ripping good time, and we learn all sorts of fun details about each of the ladies, including the nature of a well-placed tattoo that Kat has kept hidden from her fiancee.

And while the film focuses primarily on the laughs, it’s easy to get caught up in Audrey’s search for identity, questioning her friendship with Lolo—who has always been something of a burden to her—and also admitting that finding her birth mother has become something important to her during this trip. The friends pull together but are also torn apart by Audrey’s confusion about who she is and what she wants out of this search. On the plus side, all of the women are exceedingly pro sex, and no one shames anyone else’s views on sex or is ashamed about their feelings on the subject. Sex is a good thing in this universe, and so it’s celebrated, discussed at length, and sometimes practiced. If you have a problem with that, you’re in the wrong movie.

Even in the scenes where perhaps the jokes aren’t landing as often, the film just powers through and gives us something fascinating and thought-provoking to consider. There’s a great supporting cast that includes Ronny Chieng and Chris Pang (Crazy Rich Asians), Lori Tan Chinn (Awkwafina is Nora From Queens), and Annie Mumolo (Barb & Star Go to Vista Del Mar), and each one of them pops in, destroys, and moves on, leaving the ladies (and us) to pick up the pieces. Joy Ride has a wonderful, celebratory energy to it, while giving us enough emotion to get through to our hearts as well. It’s a solid combination, and I hope this team (in front of and behind the cameras) sticks together and does something new down the line.

The film begins playing in theaters on Friday.

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Steve Prokopy

Steve Prokopy is chief film critic for the Chicago-based arts outlet Third Coast Review. For nearly 20 years, he was the Chicago editor for Ain’t It Cool News, where he contributed film reviews and filmmaker/actor interviews under the name “Capone.” Currently, he’s a frequent contributor at /Film (SlashFilm.com) and Backstory Magazine. He is also the public relations director for Chicago's independently owned Music Box Theatre, and holds the position of Vice President for the Chicago Film Critics Association. In addition, he is a programmer for the Chicago Critics Film Festival, which has been one of the city's most anticipated festivals since 2013.