Adele Lim’s Debut film Joy Ride will make you cry your eyes out, in addition to showing the audience that women know how to party hard. Written by Cherry Chevapravatdumrong & Teresa Hsiao, the film stars Ashley Park, Stephanie Hsu, Sherry Cola and Sabrina Wu as four friends on a global adventure of self-discovery – but also drugs, sex, comedy. I expected nothing less from a movie that was originally titled Joy F**k Club, which I find hilarious.
Audrey (Park) is an adoptee growing up in an all white household, and Lolo’s (Cola) parents just moved from China. Their friendship starts on the playground when Audrey is approached by a bully and Lolo punches him in the face. As adults, one is now an overachieving workaholic lawyer on the verge of a promotion and the other is a slacking artist who makes art of human private parts looking to sell her pieces to the highest bidder. Audrey is flying to China to close a deal with a big client and at her going away party, Lolo suggests she find her in China while there. As they prepare to leave, Deadeye (Wu) Lolo’s cousin tags along. The last person to join this group is Audrey’s old college friend and current Chinese television star, Kat (Hsu) because she speaks the language fluently.
On a night out with this potential client, the girls drink themselves into a stupor, playing slapping games, drinking thousand year egg shots, and vomiting all over the place. Things that would normally bother a businessman, didn’t phase him. What did send off alarm bells is the fact that Audrey didn’t seem like an ‘authentic’ Asian. In order to prove this authenticity, the young lawyer needs to present some form of connection to the heritage or it’s no deal. Lolo blurts out that her friend is looking for her biological mom while there, so he agrees to sign the deal once he meets her mother. Whoops!
Many will see Joy Ride is an x-rated comedy but at the heart of it is a story about identity and belonging. Audrey is looking for answers because up to this point she hasn’t examined what it means to be a transracial adoptee. Although her friends don’t understand what that means either, the group creates space for Audrey to process these new emotions. These are some of the best friends she could ask for because not only do they support the journey, they consistently check her internalized racism and model minority-isms.
Growing up with white parents has caused Audrey to accept racism in order to assimilate at work. She doesn’t know how to speak her native language (to be fair many Americanized folks don’t), and believes that white is right (based on the choices she makes in the train scene). She is oblivious to the problems this behavior has on her self-worth, and how that’s projected onto others. Lolo, Kat, and Deadeye eventually get tired of the antics and let their friend have it, and this is when things finally clicks for her – but at what cost? Joy Ride is super racy, but also deeply introspective and holds it’s characters accountable for their actions. I laughed at jokes about vagina tattoos, and cried watching Audrey find out more about her past life. It does well to blend comedy, drama, and commentary in a cohesive way.
In her first outing as a feature director, Lim is given a surprising amount of cinematic and creative leeway. The direction and the cinematography by Paul Yee, allows the audience to connect with these relatable characters.
Filming all over Asia can’t be easy, but the director commands each shot with unrelenting fervor as there is none of that first time director hesitation in her work. She believes in the story and its execution–which is essential to the artistry especially with a multi-million dollar property being shot in international locations.
Joy Ride is about the Asian experience but also has something for everyone. I would have enjoyed seeing more of Audrey’s struggle when discovering information about her mother, and I also found parts of the ending to be rushed, but the script is self-assured, the direction is dynamic, and the cast is sensational. Props to Chevapravatdumrong, Hsiao, and Lim for knowing when to have fun and knowing when to get serious. It’s a difficult balance to strike but they do it effortlessly. What a joy to ride!