Movie Review: Joy Ride shoots for the stars in its outrageous comedy style and unique sense of emotion, but the two often clash for an uneven viewing experience. Adele Lim’s directorial debut occasionally hits the right notes, but with some snags along the way.
Written and directed by Adele Lim, Joy Ride is a movie that tries to accomplish many different feats at once. It’s an unapologetically raunchy romp mixed with a heavy dose of sentimentality – a combo that often works better in theory than practice but is astounding when accomplished by the right visionaries. I was excited to see the movie, mostly because the industry doesn’t provide enough original movies like Joy Ride anymore and because Adele Lim continues to feel like a noteworthy new voice in the bourgeoning filmmaking scene. Not to mention a trailer that successfully captures the blunt, unrelenting nature of the comedy.
Joy Ride attempts to paint long brushstrokes of tone and emotionality, jumping from the raunchiest moments captured on camera in 2023 to legitimately heartfelt and sentimental instances just a scene later. Perhaps the latter works a bit better because of its higher success rate, but I ultimately left feeling like there was a much better movie available than the one we got – one with a few more tweaks to the script and a better sense of when to tone down the comedic swings.
Because for a 95 minute runtime, I struggle whether to call Joy Ride lean or bloated. On the one hand, the movie zips through the first two acts of the film, filling it with enough drug-laced escapades and banter about cultural differences between North America and China to get by. On the other hand, it fumbles the ability to change on a dime – when it has to land significant set pieces or emotional beats, Joy Ride feels manufactured out of thin air, as if the end result wasn’t even in the cards when the characters set forth on the journey.
Joy Ride follows the inseparable friendship between Audrey (Ashley Park) and Lola (Sherry Cola) during the critical moments in each of their lives. After forging a bond from being the only two Asian-American classmates in their area, the two slowly drift apart when societal wedges dig deeper and deeper as they become adults. Audrey becomes a successful lawyer and Lola struggles to make ends meet and lives in the former’s garage check-to-check. Due to a business deal going sideways, Audrey must seek out her birth mother with the help of three of her closest friends and attempt to find herself amidst a clashing of cultural differences.
There are plenty of jokes that land in Joy Ride and there are plenty that don’t. As is the case with many modern studio comedies, there’s a timely and poignant strike with each of them, attempting to cut through on a socially conscious, self-aware level that’ll certainly play well with a young adult audience. This isn’t to say that Joy Ride is overwhelmingly politically correct, but it feels more in tune with the millennial generation than with any other, speaking to a crowd in line with the ages of the characters in the film.
Joy Ride becomes a road trip movie, and each of the common road trip character archetypes are present. From Lolo’s carefree approach to life, to Deadeye’s (Sabrina Wu) deadpan, unabashed feelings about themselves, there’s something for everyone to cling onto at some point within the film. Unfortunately, there will also be a handful of moments that make you do the opposite.
The movie wears its goals pretty obviously, trying to capitalize on a few weightier, dramatic moments that don’t feel earned when they’re dished out. Joy Ride is paced awkwardly, especially as it shifts narrative focus from one potential endpoint to the next. The movie ultimately figures to be about Audrey accepting the life she’s been given after she was put up for adoption, but this is only after we untangle a few different plot points about the whereabouts of her mother.
It’s unclear for the majority of the movie where director Adele Lim is taking us, hoping that the raunchy, genre-ness of the story will pull the seams together – and at times, I was tracking with it. Deadeye’s comedic timing feels the most natural in the movie as they deliver line after line at an unusually high success rate for a studio comedy. Sabrina Wu approaches the script better than anyone here, finding their own lane when it feels everyone else is struggling to tie together the dichotomy of their characters’ motivations and senses of humor.
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The final act jumps through a few different hoops – its catalyst being a K-pop rendition of Cardi B’s W.A.P. that goes on a bit longer than necessary and doesn’t fully materialize into a genuinely funny bit. Kat accidentally exposes herself to an Instagram Live video that negatively impacts Audrey’s professional life and the faltering friendships between the four of them. It’s a clever concept for a joke, but one that shouldn’t hold the weight of the entire movie on its shoulders.
Then Joy Ride transitions to a touching resolution for Audrey as she’s able to learn the true backstory of her family, and more specifically her mother. There’s enough sincerity in this moment to give Joy Ride a satisfying conclusion, mostly due to Ashley Park’s incredibly effective acting during these final sequences. She nails the part that generally doesn’t get enough attention because it isn’t nearly as flashy, but she completely owns it.
Aside from these few unusually touching moments for a modern studio comedy, Joy Ride doesn’t offer enough new to provide a jolt to the system. Ashley Park and Sabrina Wu give the best performances, but not nearly ones that can elevate the movie on their own. I’m interested to see what director and screenwriter Adele Lim does next because she still finds ways to shift the perspective of these Asian-American-based stories of families. I’m just hoping it’s a bit more concrete and substantial than Joy Ride.
Joy Ride is available to see in theaters
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Joy Ride Movie Cast and Credits
Ashley Park as Audrey
Sherry Cola as Lolo
Stephanie Hsu as Kat
Sabrina Wu as Deadeye
Ronny Chieng as Chao
Director: Adele Lim
Cinematography: Paul Yee
Editor: Nena Erb
Composer: Nathan Matthew David
Joy Ride movie on Letterboxd
Joy Ride movie on IMDb