In 1993, “The Joy Luck Club” made Hollywood history, proving to a skeptical — and let’s face it, racist — industry that a culturally sensitive Chinese-American drama was in high demand. Three decades later, “Joy Ride” arrives, launching wind sentience along the way to destroy any remaining barriers. Like “Girls Trip” with an Asian-American cast, the Seth Rogen-produced tough road movie follows small-town best friends Audrey (Ashley Park) and Lolo (Sherry Cola) to Beijing, where they tackle everything from Taboo tattoos a trio of demons with all the gusto you’d expect from the directorial debut of “Crazy Rich Asians” co-writer Adele Lim.
Frankly, it should come as no surprise that Asian-American comics can be just as dirty and misguided as their white male counterparts. Heck, it’s pretty much what’s expected of them. From Margaret Cho to Ali Wong to Awkwafina, there’s no shortage of “Crazy Raunchy Asians” in the stand-up community, and let’s not forget that of all the wild banter the “Hangover” movies had to offer, the MVP of the series was none. apart from Ken Jeong. So while “Joy Ride” may break barriers, this time is so far behind us that we can’t help but wonder why it took them so long to put together such a team to see what kind of mischief they could get up to. with
“Joy Ride” wastes no time setting the tone, beginning with a flashback to that special moment 25 years earlier when adoptee Audrey and newcomer Lolo cemented their friendship: the two girls just met in the aptly named White Hills. Park. when a bully hurls a racist slur on the playground. “Fuck off!” Lolo yells back, hitting the boy so hard he’ll probably need stitches. At the film’s premiere at SXSW (where Lionsgate treated the already raucous crowd to free booze), the audience erupted in applause at that moment, which is certainly empowering, and possibly even necessary, considering the recent spike in tickets. hate crimes against Asian Americans.
For comedic co-writers Cherry Chevapravatdumrong and Teresa Hsiao, the trick is to keep surprising audiences with how far they’re willing to take any given scenario. Meanwhile, for the core quartet, which also includes stand-up Sabrina Wu (as Lolo’s friendless cousin Deadeye) and “Everything Everywhere All at Once” star Stephanie Hsu (as Lolo’s former roommate Audrey in college), the idea is to take each situation and expand it further with ad-libs and alternate lines.
The film may not be brilliant at the “Bridesmaids” level, but it does have more than a few hall-of-fame comedic scenarios, like Cardi B’s memorable K-pop take on “WAP,” Who: Comes up with an unforgettable revelation. What “Joy Ride” doesn’t have is a particularly strong story on which to hang all of its antics of how low you can go.
A highly-achieving partner at an all-white law firm, Audrey, who was raised by white parents, played by David Denman and Annie Mumolo, and knows little of her Asian ancestry, accepts the mission to fly to Beijing and seal the deal with a major Chinese client. She invites Lolo to serve as a translator, disregarding the fact that her friend (a “body positive artist” who finds a way to steer most conversations into sex) has a tendency to say and do things outrageously. inappropriate in public.
“Joy Ride” acknowledges that women, and especially women of color, struggle in the workplace, where they are not treated as equals and are often objectified by their peers. But if the movie is political about anything, it’s getting past the already obvious point that such-and-such a demographic can be just as extreme as such-and-such a Seth Rogen movie. With that goal in mind, “Joy Ride” features more irreverent vagina monologues than “Sausage Party” made dick jokes, which is surely an achievement of some kind.
At the end of the day, it’s how much fun it is that matters, and if you take away the laughing response from everyone’s booze-primed SXSW audience, much of the humor of “Joy Ride” depends on the characters yelling insults (” You look like Hello Kitty just got screwed by Keropi!”) or unapologetic ethnic stereotypes (presumably excused by the source). Wu adds an element of physical comedy to the mix, functioning as the movie’s scene-stealer, as Melissa McCarthy did in “Bridesmaids” or Awkwafina in “Crazy Rich Asians.”
The script does a decent job of spreading the laughs among the four main characters, while also giving them something to do in key scenes, whether it’s the cross-country train ride that turns into a desperate struggle to ingest or hide a ton of drugs before the Chinese police find them, or an ambitious montage in which each of the women lucks out with one or more members of the Chinese Basketball Association.
The latter proves inconvenient for Hsu’s character Kat, a rising TV and film star engaged to be married to ultra-religious Chinese actor Clarence (Desmond Chiam). While Kat allowed her celebrity fiancé to believe she’s a virgin, conversations between the four women suggest she’s amassed enough conquests to rival Annabel Chong, to name just one more celeb that belies the notion that Asians are de facto more demure than Seth. Rogen and her friends.
An explicit twist involving Kat’s character gets the biggest laughs in the film, humiliating everyone and turning the four friends against each other, though the otherwise satisfying script stumbles over the inevitable fights and make-up scenes. . An epilogue from a year later set on a completely different continent doesn’t quite work and probably should have been saved for the sequel, which feels almost inevitable, as Lionsgate certainly has a hit on its hands.