An adopted millennial lawyer, a libidinous best friend, a socially awkward cousin and a famous “good girl” actress embark on a steamy road trip through China to find the latter’s biological mother. Joy Ride gives an Asian female perspective to the sex-fueled, cocaine-snorting, alcoholic antics usually seen in juvenile frat boy comedies. The rude gags are intertwined with a sincere narrative about the search for belonging in friends and family. The laughter comes fast and furious until more discreet themes settle in. All this does not work, but the film manages to be thoughtful and risky.
In 1998, White Hills, Washington, Jenny (Debbie Fan) and Wey (Kenneth Liu) Chen make fun of their new neighbors while escorting young Lolo (Chloe Pun) to the playground. The Chen are initially offended when a white couple, Mary (Annie Mumolo) and Joe (David Denman) Sullivan, ask if they are Chinese. The mood changes when the Sullivan’s introduce their adopted Chinese daughter, Audrey (Lennon Yee). The girls instantly become best friends when Lola defends Audrey from racist bullies.
The years pass with Audrey and Lolo, inseparable, who follow different academic paths. Audrey (Ashley Park), often ridiculed for being adopted and Asian, becomes a successful lawyer. Lolo (Sherry Cola) lives in his guest house and designs sex toys. Audrey is the only Asian woman in a white men’s law firm. Her aggressive and politically correct boss (Timothy Simons) gives Audrey the opportunity to partner up and move to Los Angeles. She will travel to China and sign Chao (Ronny Chieng), a wealthy businessman.
Ashley Park as Audrey
Audrey can’t speak a little Mandarin. She decides to take Lolo as a translator. Audrey is stunned at the airport when Vanessa (Sabrina Wu), Lolo’s strange cousin and K-pop lover, aptly nicknamed Deadeye, accompanies her. They land in Beijing and immediately go to a television studio. Kat (Stephanie Hsu), Audrey’s former college roommate, has become a star embodying chaste characters. Lolo despises Kat because they have always competed for Audrey’s attention. She also has a new idea of what to do after the meeting. They should look for Audrey’s biological mother and find out why she gave her child up for adoption.
Joy Ride drops f-bombs from the literal opening and continues to be profane throughout. The characters spit vulgarities like drunken sailors on a bender. The scriptwriters Cherry Chevapravatdumrong (Family Guy, The Orville) and Teresa Hsiao (the co-creator of Awkwafina is Nora from Queens) defined provocative expectations very early on. These are not stereotypical Asian women as docile, docile and wise. Ashley and the gang have wild sexual urges. They love to party and are not ashamed to get dirty with several men…sometimes at once.
The film Joy Ride cheerfully defies any notion of carnal restraint, but also shows how some Asian women pretend to be virtuous in order to satisfy patriarchal standards. Kat’s flourishing career is based on a cultivated image of purity. Her co-star fiancé (Desmond Chiam) is a single Christian who is saving himself for marriage. He has no idea about his sordid past or his libertine impulses. A common joke about Kat’s secret tattoo symbolizes her forced discretion. She is not free to be herself without risking love and employment.
Big problems in China
Audrey is faced with a different dilemma. Her Asian friends consider her to be ethnically white. It’s a little safe but indicative of his upbringing. Audrey was raised by white parents with no real roots in Chinese culture. This made her an outcast in all contexts. She’s not comfortable in her own skin. A frank scene shows Audrey looking around in China and sighing with relief. She was only part of the crowd in the end, but soon learns that this is not an acceptance.
Joy Ride goes too far with stupidity. Adele Lim, known for writing Crazy Rich Asians and Raya the Last Dragon, is uneven in her directorial debut. His characters are richly realized but stray into wacky territory; the line between funny and stupid is razor thin. The movie has fantastic cut scenes where the actors pretend to be K-pop stars. Lim mocks the zealous cult of BTS fans but repeatedly lingers too long. There is an art to knowing when the laughter stops.