We sadly get sex positive cinema only on rare occasions. Too often, a film sees sex as dirty, especially in a raunchy comedy. So, it’s a wonderful surprise to see how a movie like Joy Ride celebrates sex. It’s perfectly okay to be horny and it’s ridiculous to be ashamed of it, which the movie is more than happy to remind us of. If this was just about that, it would be the most notable work of sex positivity since perhaps Magic Mike XXL, but this is not just about that, in the slightest. It’s also a rather hilarious comedy with more than its fair share of heart.
Joy Ride obviously wants to make you laugh, that goes without saying. But it’s the heart, blended with the raunch, that sets it apart. Alongside the recently released No Hard Feelings, the R-rated studio comedy hopefully is showing some signs of life. The former is doing some respectable box office numbers, but this one might just be a smash hit. If so, it would be a more than deserving bit of summer counter-programming.
Ever since the were kids, Audrey (Ashley Park) and Lolo (Sherry Cola) have been close friends. Growing up, they were the only Asian-Americans in town, immediately forming a bond. As adults, Audrey is now a high-powered attorney, well on her way to making partner. Lolo, on the other hand, makes pornographic (or body positive, as she calls it) art/sculptures, while living in Audrey’s backyard. When her firm needs her to go to China to close a deal, Lolo tags along to be her translator. She hopes that her friend will want to look up her birth mother, something she doesn’t seem to have interest in, leading to some tension. They won’t be alone though, not by a long shot.
First, Lolo surprises Audrey by bringing along her awkward cousin Deadeye (Sabrina Wu). Then, Audrey annoys Lolo by utilizing her college friend, the actress Kat (Stephanie Hsu) as a more professional translator of sorts. Almost immediately, the get into trouble, first with Audrey’s business contact, leading them to need to look for her birth mother. They also end up in trouble with drugs, losing their passports, and finding their open sexuality leading to hijinks. Throughout, the women grow close, get into fights, and pretty much go through the raunchy comedy greatest hits. The thing here is the execution, above all.
The quartet of Sherry Cola, Stephanie Hsu, Ashley Park, and Sabrina Wu display some terrific chemistry. Park is our lead and has a real screen magnetism to her, while Cola (much like in Shortcomings) is phenomenal comic relief. Hsu is aces, as we all know by now, while Wu grows on you. Deadeye started out a little grating, but once they find their groove, everyone is on point. Supporting players include Desmond Chiam, Daniel Dae Kim, Meredith Hagner, Annie Mumolo, Timothy Simons, and more.
Filmmaker Adele Lim directs a script she co-wrote with Cherry Chevapravatdumrong and Teresa Hsiao. While the plot of Joy Ride is nothing new, the jokes from the trio are high quality and almost always land as intended. Lim’s direction keeps things moving in a tight 90 minute flick, with the focus being on getting from one joke to the next. Plus, the third act throughs in so much heart, down to a scene involving the birth mother than brought me to tears. They never forget about the gags and sex positivity, but this is also certainly about family and friendship, too.
Joy Ride is not reinventing the comedy wheel, but it’s a smooth ride that leaves a big smile on your face. There’s a ton of heart on display, making this far more than just dirty jokes. The film deserves to be a huge hit, not just because it’s a welcome bit of representation in cinema, but because it’s incredibly funny. The movie rips and you’re almost certain to have a blast with it.