There’s something about friendships that makes a gal’s heart sing. No one understands you quite like your closest girlfriends, and no one is there to pick up the pieces when everything goes sideways like they are. And things do go sideways in Adele Lim’s laugh-out-loud hilarious directorial debut “Joy Ride,” a sweet mix of a buddy comedy and a girl’s trip film that will have you laughing so much you’ll cry — and then crying for real, and laughing some more. This is such a bold and genuine movie, one that highlights the concepts of found family, maternal connections and doing what makes you happy alongside all of its unrestrained and risque fun.
The boisterous comedy follows Ashley Park’s Audrey, a Chinese girl adopted by white parents in a mostly-white suburban town. As a child, she meets and becomes BFFs with Sherry Cola’s Lolo, a rebellious free spirit who is Audrey’s opposite in almost every way. When Audrey’s high-powered job enlists her to close a deal in Beijing, Lolo jumps at the chance to accompany her friend — who is way more in touch with her white upbringing than her Asian heritage — on a trip to their homeland. As you’d expect, chaos ensues from there.
From the jump, there’s simply no denying how riotously hilarious this buddy comedy is, and the film has two utterly prolific “Family Guy” writers to thank for that. Cherry Chevapravatdumrong and Teresa Hsiao’s reputations precede them, with over 60 episodes of the Seth MacFarlane show credited between them. They are consummate comedians and it was great to see them flex their skills in such a female-dominated and empowering film. Their script is smart, salacious and heartfelt in equal measure, oscillating between sex comedy and emotional drama as the movie progresses. Chevapravatdumrong and Hsiao’s work is perfectly paced, hitting each comedic and dramatic beat with a seasoned skill that feels well within their wheelhouses. Their capacity for dramatic and emotional moments is just as strong as their penchant for killer comedy, and the story they crafted alongside Lim is beautifully stacked in both genres — and that makes for a well-rounded good time.
Chevapravatdumrong and Hsiao’s pitch perfect script is brought hilariously to life by an impeccable, deeply dedicated cast — every single one of which is endlessly fascinating and joyful to watch. Park is a strong central lead who juggles the demands in her life and time for fun with the precision of the most matriarchal person in the friend group. She is a pleasure to experience in a role that suits her so well, and her chemistry with the rest of the film’s players is crucial to how well it plays with an audience (and trust me, it plays well).
Cola is uproariously funny as Lolo, with a quick and gross wit that is sure to keep viewers laughing long after the credits roll. She has some of the film’s funniest jokes — an early scene where a scandalous tattoo is in discussion is just one example — and each is delivered with more self-assured comedic prowess than the last. Oscar nominee Stephanie Hsu comes in hot as the third friend in the group named Kat, Audrey’s college roommate turned famous Chinese actress. If you’ve been waiting for a worthy “Everything Everywhere All at Once” follow-up for Hsu, look no further than this film. She is blissfully hysterical, fully embodying a woman struggling to renew herself in the eyes of a faith-based relationship she finds herself somewhat trapped in. She gives an Oscar nomination-worthy performance in this film too, proving that she can handle any material she connects with.
But the MVP of “Joy Ride”’s cast is Sabrina Wu, who plays the quirky, quiet and sweet Deadeye, Lolo’s cousin who tags along for the trip. Wu’s Deadeye is potentially the funniest member of the central quad while also being the most sincere of the group. Their passion for Kpop is an incredibly entertaining avenue to explore, and their shy personality is such a welcomed juxtaposition to the other characters. Plus, their character is endlessly earnest, and they play that kind of delicate introspection so well. Deadeye’s heart is on Wu’s sleeve, and that’s what makes their character so effective. This group of four feels so three-dimensional and real through their dialogue that adding these performances to the mix further aids in the effect; In short, any viewer would want to be part of this charismatic circle of pals.
After writing “Crazy Rich Asians” alongside Peter Chiarelli, Lim’s street cred in Hollywood sky-rocketed, and she went on to write 2021’s animated film “Raya and the Last Dragon.” That said, audiences have been waiting for her to return to form, and though she’s in the director’s chair this time, “Joy Ride” is certainly that return to form. Lim shows viewers that her lively and electric style translates impeccably from writing to directing. Her writing skills have clearly influenced her directorial eye, treating the big picture of the film like the riot her “Crazy Rich Asians” script was. Coming off an intense comedy like that, it’s clear Lim pulled the directorial lens “Joy Ride” from her own crazy imagination and, of course, the rise and demise and resurgence of lasting friendships, a topic she explores quite well.
To top it all off, this delight of a film beautifully takes pride in its Asian foundations. It goes out of its way to let Asian women be raucous, raunchy and real, to let them take up space rather than playing into a stereotype of them being reserved. It also gives Asian men the opportunity to be portrayed and seen as total hunks, quite the opposite of the popular stereotypes about them. Those central concepts are key to one of the film’s core messages: that it is perfectly fine, and honestly celebrated, to be who you really are, perceptions be damned. Whether that means it’s time to grow up or that it means to figure out a new way to forge forward, “Joy Ride” gleefully reminds us that life’s biggest obstacles and surprises are better experienced within the warm hug of close comradery — after all, there’s nothing quite like pure, unbridled friendship.