Joy Ride

I laughed myself silly at Joy Ride. Having the word “joy” in the title is appropriate, because that’s what I felt when it was over. A great comedy always leaves the viewer feeling ecstatic afterward. That definitely happened for me in this case. It’s not just that the picture is funny, it’s that the humor is cheerful in its raunchiness and the focus is always on the characters, even during the edgiest jokes. Crazy Rich Asians’ screenwriter Adele Lim makes her directorial debut, and she could not have had a bigger triumph. Four amazing lead actresses take the already strong material to a whole other level.

Audrey Sullivan (Ashley Park) is a lawyer tasked by her boss to seal a big deal. Doing so will require traveling to China, a country she hasn’t been to since being adopted by a white American couple as a child. Accompanying her is life-long best friend Lolo (Sherry Cola) who was the only other Asian child in their small town. Lolo invites along her oddball cousin Deadeye (Sabrina Wu), so nicknamed due to her penchant for looking like the lights are on when nobody’s home. They meet up with Audrey’s college roommate Kat (Everything Everywhere All at Once Oscar nominee Stephanie Hsu), a famous actress engaged to her hunky male co-star.

Wild, unhinged shenanigans follow. There’s an uproarious encounter with a drug dealer (Meredith Hagner), an unforgettable sex montage, and even a musical number in which the women belt out one of the most notorious hip-hop songs of our time. The screenplay by Lim, Cherry Chevapravatdumrong, and Teresa Hsiao is packed with sharp one-liners to match the outrageous situations. Big laughs come on a regular basis. How the characters interact during this madness is another source of humor. Lolo and Kat, for example, comically bicker because both are secretly jockeying for status as Audrey’s bestie.

For all the R-rated hijinks, genuine substance is at the movie’s core. Audrey grapples with feeling not fully Chinese and not fully white. She’s adrift in terms of her identity. While in China, Lolo suggests she track down her biological mother, believing that knowing where she came from will help her figure out where she’s going. That’s a really interesting story point, and it builds to a touching statement about adoption. The friendship between the women is explored, too. Going through a series of ordeals simultaneously brings out buried tensions and builds new forms of bonding. Incorporating these elements makes the humor even funnier, since it’s grounded in something human.

Terrific performances glue the film together. The stars are uniformly wonderful. Each creates a fully-formed character, and the group dynamic they build is thoroughly enjoyable. To the extent that there’s a standout, it would be Sherry Cola. In this and the soon-to-be-released Shortcomings, she displays exquisite comic timing. Like Melissa McCarthy in Bridesmaids and Tiffany Haddish in Girls Trip, Cola explodes out of this movie with a turn that’s bound to shoot her career into the stratosphere.

Joy Ride will have you cracking up constantly, but also caring about Audrey, Lolo, Kat, and Deadeye. It’s the kind of movie that keeps you doubled up with laughter, then leaves you with a lump in your throat at the end.

out of four

Joy Ride is rated R for strong and crude sexual content, language throughout, drug content, and brief graphic nudity. The running time is 1 hour and 34 minutes.