When Lolo’s Chinese parents first moved from L.A. to White Hills, they regarded a Caucasian couple’s invitation for a play date with their daughter suspiciously. Then shy Audrey (Isla Rose Hall), their adopted Chinese child, stepped out from behind them and when a little boy challenged their right to the playground, Lolo (Chloe Pun) decked him and a fast friendship between the two was born. Decades later, insecure overachieving lawyer Audrey (Broadway's Ashley Park, Netflix's 'Emily in Paris’) guns for a business trip to Beijing hoping for a promotion and suggests penniless wildcard Lolo (Sherry Cola, TV's 'Good Trouble') be her Mandarin translator, but Lolo’s invite to her oddball cousin Deadeye (Sabrina Wu) to join them and Audrey’s Beijing meet up with college bestie Kat (Stephanie Hsu, "Everything Everywhere All at Once") ends up turning the business into a “Joy Ride.”
Laura's Review: C
Too bad someone decided to change writers Cherry Chevapravatdumrong (‘TV’s Family Guy’) and 'Awkwafina Is Nora From Queens'' Teresa Hsiao’s original title of “Joy F*ck Club” because that was funnier than a lot of what happens in their resulting film. Making her feature directorial debut with a story she helped create, Adele Lim’s ("Crazy Rich Asians") raunchy R-rated comedy’s funny bits result from the relationships among its four leads, the bits in between the big set pieces which are usually nonsensical and fall flat. (For the record, I am not against raunchy comedies, but the good ones, like “Superbad,” are more reality based.)
“Joy Ride” is actually delightful before the girls make that trip, but things begin to get bumpy as soon as they take off. The adopted Audrey may be successful, but she’s uptight and unsure of herself while Lolo is full of confidence but lives in Audrey’s garage making art she dubs ‘sex positive.’ Audrey is clearly pained when Deadeye, who Lolo says is meeting up with fellow K-Pop ‘Internet friends,’ joins them, just as Lolo is none too pleased when Chinese soap opera star Kat claims to be Audrey’s best friend on the opposite end of their journey. This sets up an interesting dynamic, as Audrey and Deadeye are both awkward in social situations while Lolo and Kat are both lusty extroverts.
The big business deal Audrey hopes to sew up is kicked off at a nightclub with Chao (Ronny Chieng, "Crazy Rich Asians") where Lolo and Kat engage too aggressively in a game of party slap and Audrey’s downing of a 1,000 year-old egg shot ends with her vomiting on both Chao and Deadeye, neither my idea of funny. And because Chao’s made the deal contingent on established family, Lolo complicates everything by lying about the birth mother Audrey’s never met, let alone identified. Having noted the name of an adoption agency in an outlying town on the back of Audrey’s only picture with her birth mother, the group boards a train the next day.
The ‘adventures’ the girls have include a run-in with a blonde American drug dealer (Meredith Hagner) who irrationally threatens to take them all down with her and an overnight hotel stay with a Chinese basketball team – cue the kinky sex montage (featuring Alexander Hodge of TV's 'Insecure,' Chris Pang, Rohain Arora and the NBA’s Baron Davis), two situations where Audrey either acts entirely out of character or lets her freak flag fly, depending on your subjective comedy meter. Things get funny again with a stop at the home of Lolo’s nainai (Lori Tan Chinn, TV's 'Awkwafina is Nora From Queens') where Deadeye enjoys scamming a kid by making up the rules of a card game on the fly (and begins to connect with Audrey). Then they find out Audrey’s birth mother was Korean, an ethnic group which has already been made the butt of jokes and which suddenly makes her unwelcome with Lolo’s relatives (the filmmakers lean hard on stereotypes for humor). Now the problem is how to get to Seoul with no passports, which were most illogically all in Kat’s suitcase, the only one stolen on the train. Time to impersonate a K-Pop band and go viral when Kat’s privates are exposed along with a racy tattoo sure to cause a rift with her very religious but extremely fine fiancé Clarence (Desmond Chiam).
As has long been said, comedy is subjective, but all this over the top idiocy detracts from the film’s genuinely funny, often moving emotional core, one which comes to a head in a Seoul graveyard. Lim lands her film well with honestly arrived at laughs as the romcom obstacle plunked into the middle of her ‘friendship triangle’ is resolved, the women all in a better place than where we found them. All hail representative cinema (and sexy Asian guys), but “Joy Ride” is wildly uneven.
Robin's Review: C
Lionsgate releases “Joy Ride” in theaters on 7/7/23.