2023 has shown us no one really knows what drives people to the theater, and the effects of streaming and VOD continue to wreak havoc on predictions and what can be considered success. We continue to try to use an outdated model of pure box office numbers as the definition for hit or flop when the reality is less and less people are going to the movies. That’s not to say some haven’t defied the odds, but only to iterate that great movies like “Joy Ride” are going to be falsely misnomered as complete flops because they didn’t have a $100 million opening. It’s even more unfortunate because “Joy Ride” is another solid entry into the raunchy comedy genre that is slowly making a comeback. We always say they don’t make them like they used to, but the truth is they still do we just aren’t rushing to the theater to see them. My point in all of this is to point out that we shouldn’t let box office numbers dictate what is worth seeing, as it is an outdated system in a new world.
If we go off the box office numbers (which turned in an abysmal $3 million in its opening weekend), it tells a very different story; no one wants raunchy comedies, “female-lead / written and directed films aren’t draws,” and “Joy Ride” isn’t a “good movie.” It is important to understand the landscape of movie going and the impact of streaming in order to determine that these assessments of the film are categorically false.
The reality is we just watch movies differently, and are significantly more particular of what gets us to leave our house to actually watch. Especially when we know it’ll be available at home in roughly 30 days and you can watch whatever you want in the comfort of your pajamas. “Joy Ride” is better than the box office numbers would have you believe, and worth seeing in a theater with a crowd that will join in the uproarious laughter that the film possesses.
Directed by Adele Lim (“Crazy Rich Asians”) from a screenplay by Cherry Chevapravatdumrong and Teresa Hsiao, “Joy Ride” stars Sabrina Wu, Sherry Cola, Ashley Park, and Stephanie Hsu. It tells the story of Audrey (Wu) an asian woman who was adopted by white parents and reside in a very white neighborhood in Seattle. As a kid she meets Lolo (Cola), the only other asian kid in her neighborhood. They develop a strong friendship that lasts throughout the years, with Lolo becoming a carefree artist and Aubrey becoming a hotshot lawyer in an all white, male dominated law firm. Asked to go to China to close a big deal that could lead to her becoming a partner, she decides to bring Lolo with her as a translator. Lolo ends up inviting her cousin Deadeye (Wu) a socially awkward K-Pop fan, and they meet up with Aubrey’s college friend Kat (Hsu) who is now an accomplished Chinese soap opera actress. The 4 of them set out to find Aubrey’s brith mother (whom she has never met or looked for) to help close the deal, and end up on a wild road trip full of misadventures throughout China that will test their friendship and help them discover themselves along the way.
Sex, drugs, and alcohol are all staples of the raunchy comedy, and “Joy Ride” has all of those things in spades. The script from Chevapravatdumrong and Hsiao delivers a joke per minute, rapid fire comedic delivery that is so packed with zingers you’ll find yourself missing jokes because you’re still laughing from the previous one. This is raunchy comedy at its best, not for the faint of heart and boundary pushing in its consistency of one upping jokes and slapstick scenario comedy. It’s a classic road trip comedy, and while it feels fresh it does stick to that particular formula closely for the first two acts. It almost feels like a re-skin of “The Hangover,” in that all of the characters represent the standard archetypes one would find in these kinds of films and are easily identified as the female counterparts. This comparison stops at the basic framework, because “Joy Ride” takes a wholly different approach to their characters and despite its jaw dropping shock value, has much more to say about the character development of its leads and actually strives to have them learn something about each other and themselves.
Lim rides a fine line between comedy and heart, something that is much harder to do than many give it credit for. It’s easy to just go nuts with jokes and raunchy sex charged humor. It’s quite another to do that AND make us care about the characters on an emotional level. “Joy Ride” strikes a near perfect balance, falling just short by taking more risks with the comedy than with its themes. The predictability of the story leaves little to be surprised by even if its executed well, and it’s not hard to know where things are going and how it will end up. But like all road trip comedies, it’s the journey that’s meant to be enjoyed, and by god does “Joy Ride” deliver on the wild journey these 4 women take. Lim seems to understand that while it’s perfectly fine to be as shocking as you want, no one will go for the ride if they aren’t invested in the characters. Her direction allows for the very natural chemistry and impeccable comedic timing from the film’s stars to shine and be as unhinged as the comedy calls for.
Everyone is great here, and the 4 women are near perfect together with their differing personalities and interconnectedness. Each of them have their own journeys that impact their collective one, and most of them have fitting resolves that feel impactful and purposeful. Really the only one that suffers a bit is Park as Aubrey, and that’s not a knock on Park’s efforts. “Joy Ride” has one big mistake and that’s that the entire narrative hinges on the least interesting character of the bunch. Harkening back to “The Hangover” comparison, it would be like Doug being the main character instead of his far more interesting friends leading the charge. Park nails the emotion required of her for the self discovery, and has quite a few terrifically funny moments of her own, but she is held back by Aubrey on the page. Luckily, we get Sherry Cola‘s Lolo, a loudmouthed, unfiltered joke machine who never stops being hilarious. She runs away with just about every scene she’s in, and turns in a star making performance that has me marking her down as a comedic performer to watch.
Both Wu and Hsu are equally great, with Hsu once again demonstrating why she’s an Oscar Nominated Actress. If I wasn’t already on the Hsu train, her work in “Joy Ride” just solidifies that she’s here to stay and we’re all just living in her world. All of them are great, and what is particularly unique about “Joy Ride” and their work is that it is from a wholly female perspective. There’s a woman behind the script, women behind the screenplay, and women leading the entire film from start to finish. It allows for the right perspective to tell their own stories, and even if the humor is outrageous and unbelievable, there’s a commitment to the subject matter beneath the surface that resonates much stronger in the more emotional moments. We need more films like “Joy Ride,” ones that allow for even formulaic and predictable stories to be reimagined through often silenced or stifled voices. It has its heart in the right place because the right people are telling the story, and that’s a ride I can get behind.
“Joy Ride” will make you cry from laughter then cry from the emotional empathy and exploration it tackles in the 3rd act. It may not come together as perfectly as one would want, but it gets far more right than it does wrong and walks that line just well enough to be impactful on both fronts. The screenplay rips, the direction is executed well, and the cast is hilarious and pitch perfect with their comedic timing and commitment to the material. “Joy Ride” is worth the trip the movies, and just may be one of the best comedies of the year so far.
It also sports the best version of “WAP” you’ll ever hear, one that literally has to be seen to believed and is probably one of the funniest sequences in the entire film. And that’s coming from someone who regularly asks, “What is a Cardi B?”
If “Joy Ride” is what happens when you “objectify men and target white people,” sign me up for a whole Fast franchise of these. Give me “Joy Ride 2: Asians In Paris.”
Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars
“Joy Ride” is now playing in theaters. You can watch the trailer below.