Medium Joy

‘Joy Ride,’ a well-meaning, naggingly mediocre, and buoyantly good-natured Asian lady sex comedy

If progress is watching a Chinese American actress shove a condom full of cocaine up her butthole, then Joy Ride is a watershed moment in representation. Tiger moms may disagree. But this relentlessly well-meaning, naggingly mediocre, and buoyantly good-natured Asian lady sex comedy really does make cock-and-coochie gags feel fresher than they have in years.

JOY RIDE ★★★(3/5 stars)
Directed by: Adele Lim
Written by: Cherry Chevapravatdumrong, Teresa Hsiao
Starring: Ashley Park, Sherry Cola, Stephanie Hsu, Sabrina Wu, Ronny Chieng, Timothy Simons, Daniel Dae Kim
Running time: 95 mins

Why should white boys have all the dumb fun? Speaking of whom, Adele Lim’s randy romp actually does have a couple of crazy Round-Eyes attached: Seth Rogen and his creative partner Evan Goldberg are co-producers, which might just make them the Millennial heirs to Judd Apatow’s Gen-X comic Svengali throne. It’s heartening to see the DNA of that yuk dynasty enduring.

We’re balls-deep into 21st century humor, so prep for gags about Caucasian male allies “doing the work,” Pitch-Perfect-era jokes about an all-girl a cappella group called The Tunas, and K-Pop fantasy sequences. Not so funny? Straight-faced depictions of bisexuality and gender fluidity that would have been ripe for alienating guffaws a generation ago but here, admirably, hardly merit a chuckle.

The emotional crux is immigrant dissonance, especially as it relates to high-powered lawyer Audrey Sullivan (Ashley Park). Her white parents (David Denman, Annie Mumolo) went through a Chinese adoption agency to get a baby and raise her in the very homogenous Seattle suburb of White Hills that vibes on the Dave Matthews Band and raises little boys who call Asian kids “Ching-Chings.” Audrey’s reference points are very Wonder-Bread multi-culti: when someone says Linsanity, she thinks it’s about Lin-Manuel Miranda.

Joy Ride
‘Joy Ride,’ directed by Adele Lim.

Audrey’s alpha-dog law firm boss Frank (Timothy Simons) naturally chooses her to wine and dine a potential businessman client named Chao (Ronny Chieng) over in Beijing—which means Audrey is also making her very first trip to the Middle Kingdom. “Close China, make partner,” he says, very efficiently summarizing her character’s movie goal.

He assumes she can speak Chinese. She can’t, of course, beyond a few remedial Duolingo phrases, so she invites her childhood BFF Lolo Chen (Sherry Cola) to come on the trip and be her de facto translator. Lolo brings along her Asperberger-y cousin Vanessa, aka Deadeye (Sabrina Wu). And once they’re in Beijing, the three of them meet up with Kat Wong (Stephanie Hsu), Audrey’s old college roommate and now a TV celebrity making the transition to movies.

All four of them are either stuck in their lives or living a lie, convincing themselves that the status quo is working for them. Audrey won’t admit that she hates her job; Kat is hiding her slutty past from her fans and especially from Christian fiancé Clarence (Desmond Chiam); the online-obsessed Deadeye has no IRL friends; and Lolo’s brash sex-positivity-infused artwork couples with an aggressive lack of ambition.

People tease Audrey for her lack of ethnicity, so Lolo pushes her to track down her biological mother. Audrey is alarmed at the thought. But after a long, boozy, vomit-filled, face-slapping night drinking with Chao, he tells Audrey he won’t do business with anyone unless he meets their family. So Audrey makes it her mission to find her real mom—and the international road trip really begins.

Planes, trains, and automobiles—plus a cargo tanker—ensue, as our heroines find their plans turning into misadventures that involves a drug-smuggling conflagration, soju-soaked one-night stands with a basketball team, messy fights, hurtful insults, surprise revelations, and tear-filled confessions. Plus a running gag about a Demonic vaginal tattoo that conjures Tweety Bird’s obsession with pussy tats.

Joy Ride isn’t quite as joyous as it could be, if it only had a screenplay that didn’t lean so much on implausible serendipity, unexplained coincidences and downright wish-fulfillment plotting. But the sustained sight of watching a gaggle of thirsty chicks constantly eye-fucking the men around them makes for a pretty delightful stereotype role-reversal, especially when the subverted expectations involve a culture weighed down too long with outdated assumptions and prejudices. Asian girls just want to have fun, too, and their stupid antics in Joy Ride prove they can go toe to toe with any frat bro.

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Stephen Garrett

Stephen Garrett is the former film editor of 'Time Out New York’ and has written about the movie industry for more than 20 years. A Rotten Tomatoes certified reviewer, Garrett is also the founder of Jump Cut, a marketing company that creates trailers and posters for independent, foreign-language, and documentary films.

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