A Hilariously Raunchy and Heartfelt Road Trip


An adopted millennial lawyer, libidinous bestie, socially awkward cousin, and famed “good girl” actress embark on a raunchy road trip through China to find the latter’s birth mother. Joy Ride gives an Asian female perspective to the sex-fueled, cocaine-snorting, and boozy antics usually seen in juvenile frat boy comedies. The gross-out gags intermingle with a heartfelt narrative about finding belonging in friends and family. The laughs come fast and furious until more subdued themes take hold. Not all of it works, but the film succeeds in being thoughtful and risqué.

In 1998 White Hills, Washington, Jenny (Debbie Fan) and Wey (Kenneth Liu) Chen scoff at their new neighbors while escorting young Lolo (Chloe Pun) to the playground. The Chens are initially offended when a White couple, Mary (Annie Mumolo) and Joe (David Denman) Sullivan, ask if they’re Chinese. The mood changes when the Sullivans introduce their adopted Chinese daughter, Audrey (Lennon Yee). The girls become instant best friends when Lola defends Audrey from racist bullies.

The years pass with an inseparable Audrey and Lolo following different academic paths. Audrey (Ashley Park), often ridiculed for being adopted and Asian, becomes a successful lawyer. Lolo (Sherry Cola) lives in her backyard guest house and designs sex toy art. Audrey is the only Asian woman in a law firm of White men. Her aggressive, politically correct boss (Timothy Simons) gives Audrey an opportunity to make partner and move to Los Angeles. She will travel to China and sign Chao (Ronny Chieng), a wealthy businessman.

Ashley Park as Audrey

Ashley Park in Joy Ride

Audrey can’t speak a lick of Mandarin. She decides to bring Lolo along as a translator. Audrey’s stunned at the airport when Lolo’s weird, K-pop loving cousin Vanessa (Sabrina Wu), aptly nicknamed Deadeye, tags along. They land in Beijing and immediately go to a television studio. Kat (Stephanie Hsu), Audrey’s formerly promiscuous college roommate, has become a star portraying chaste characters. Lolo despises Kat as they’ve always competed for Audrey’s attention. She also has a novel idea of what to do after the meeting. They should search for Audrey’s birth mother and find out why she gave her child up for adoption.

Related: These Are the Raunchiest Animated Movies For Adults

Joy Ride drops f-bombs from the literal open and continues to be profane throughout. The characters spew vulgarities like drunken sailors on a bender. Screenwriters Cherry Chevapravatdumrong (Family Guy, The Orville) and Teresa Hsiao (co-creator of Awkwafina Is Nora from Queens) set provocative expectations early. These aren’t Asian women stereotyped as docile, compliant, and demure. Ashley and the gang have raging sex drives. They love to party and aren’t ashamed of getting dirty with multiple men…sometimes at once.

The film gleefully challenges any notion of carnal restraint, but also depicts how some Asian women pretend to be virtuous to satisfy patriarchal norms. Kat’s burgeoning career is based on a cultivated image of purity. He co-star fiancé (Desmond Chiam) is a celibate Christian saving himself for marriage. He has no clue about her sordid past or libertine impulses. A running joke about Kat’s secret tattoo symbolizes her forced discretion. She’s not free to be herself without risking love and employment.

Big Trouble in China

joy ride

Audrey faces a different dilemma. Her Asian friends consider her to be ethnically White. It’s a slight for sure but indicative of her upbringing. Audrey was raised by White parents without any real foothold in Chinese culture. This made her an outcast in every setting. She’s not comfortable in her own skin. A frank scene has Audrey looking around in China and sighing with relief. She was finally just a part of the crowd, but soon learns that’s not acceptance.

Joy Ride goes overboard with silliness. Adele Lim, known for writing Crazy Rich Asians and Raya the Last Dragon, is uneven in her feature directorial debut. Her characters are richly realized but stray into goofy territory; the line between funny and dumb is razor-thin. The film has fantasy cut scenes where the cast pretends to be K-pop stars. Lim mocks zealous BTS fan worship but repeatedly lingers for too long. There’s an art to knowing when the laughter stops.

Related: Best American Movies with an Ensemble Cast of Asian Characters, Ranked

White people and WASP culture in general get a merciless ribbing. This may be divisive depending on your point of view. Some may say just deserts. Hollywood has lampooned and racially insulted Asians from its beginning. A little comeuppance is welcome, fair play, and probably deserved. Others will state that Lim could never get away with treating Blacks or Jews in a similar manner. My response is that art can be offensive, but there’s obviously no ill will or racist intent here. Let’s turn down the sensitivity dial and appreciate the film’s message.

A Tearjerker Finale

Lim wraps female empowerment and Asian pride in a naughty blanket. It’s not flawless, but Joy Ride will have audiences laughing and possibly crying. A tearjerker finale reminds how adoption changes lives for the better. Audrey’s wonderful parents and friends have given her every opportunity…to have threesomes.

Joy Ride is a production of Point Grey Pictures and Red Mysterious Hippo. It will be released theatrically on July 7th from Lionsgate.

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