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Joy Ride Review: A Raunchy Delight

  • There are a number of creative and raunchy scenarios
  • The movie is surprisingly touching in its third act
  • It foregrounds both Asian women and female pleasure
  • The movie follows the same outline as other gross-out comedies

There have been a lot of gross-out comedies made about boys and men, but in "Joy Ride," female pleasure is centered — and it's given an Asian face. In this comedy, guys really are on the side, as are people who aren't Asian American. It's an important feature of the film, but that doesn't mean it isn't a movie for everyone. Despite the specificity of the main characters' dilemmas, there's something universal about their struggles, whether they're trying to impress their boss who tries way too hard to maintain "ally" status, or they're trying to be good girls despite massive tattoos in places that can't be named.

"Joy Ride" sets the scene with a flashback to when two of the four girls were children. Lolo (Chloe Pun) and her family have just moved to a very white neighborhood, and Lolo's parents are a little worried and defensive. So when a white couple asks them if they're Chinese, they're ready to give them an earful — until the white couple's daughter Audrey (Isla Rose Hall) pops out from behind them. It turns out she's Chinese and the parents want her to have a friend that looks like her.

Fast forward to the present day and Lolo (Sherry Cola) and Audrey (Ashley Park) are lifelong friends, despite the fact that Lolo is a starving artist and Audrey is an overachieving lawyer. Audrey is going to China to sign a deal with a Chinese entrepreneur (Ronny Chieng). Lolo is going with her to translate because, despite what her boss thinks, Audrey barely speaks a word of Chinese. Joining them for the ride is Audrey's best friend from college, Kat (Stephanie Hsu), and Lolo's cousin, Deadeye (Sabrina Wu).

The quartet end up on a wild goose chase for Audrey's birth mother. At first this is because the entrepreneur says he needs to meet Audrey's parents in order to do business with her, but it becomes a personal quest that the other three are more than willing to support — even if they do end up in a host of compromising situations along the way. To say much more would ruin the movie, but in 95 minutes of screen time, these women have a lot of fun — and funny — scenarios thrown at them, and they make it through intact and maybe even a little better for it.

Adult situations

The adult situations are part of the movie from the very beginning. Little Lolo curses the white kids who dare to confront her on the playground, and then when she's an adult all her art has to do with body positivity, which means there are a lot of explicit body parts. But things really get spicy when Audrey and her gang board a train to visit her birth mother and they choose a seat with an unassuming white girl (Meredith Hagner). The girl turns out to be a drug dealer, and she makes them conceal her stash and gets them kicked off the train. Seeing Kat, in particular, attempt to remove the drugs from her person is a sight to behold, and it's very funny despite the dire circumstances.

Another highlight comes when the friends have a night with a men's basketball team which ends with many of the guys in less than fighting shape. And their attempt to impersonate a K-pop group goes surprisingly well, even if it ends with Kat revealing a side of herself she wishes she hadn't. These scenarios are all raunchy and side-splittingly funny — and made better by the fact that female pleasure is foregrounded in them.

A surprisingly touching heart

The fact that they're in China while these scenarios are going on gives them an added kick. You get to see Lolo and Deadeye's large Chinese family, and get to see places that you might not had they stayed state-side. But the biggest surprise of the film is that, for all the racy and explicit scenes that pepper the film, "Joy Ride" also has a surprisingly touching final third. This is the part of the film where the friends finally say the things they've been holding back, and it's brutal. It's a standard formula for this kind of film, but "Joy Ride" does it with particular confidence, setting up a satisfying finale.

From there, much of the film's third act focuses solely on Audrey and her search for her mother, but it's surprisingly effective. As much as she's been through in the film, nothing prepares you for the gut-punch of an end to her emotional roller coaster, and you may well find yourself getting choked up right alongside her. It's that combination of raunchy and touching that makes this movie all the more special.

While each member of the group comes from different places and perspectives, by the end they've managed to become genuine friends, willing to stand up for each other in the oddest of situations. And in finding each other, they've managed to find themselves too. It's a nice sentiment, even as the movie's naughty side plays out in all its puerile glory.

"Joy Ride" is a raunchy pleasure that shows ladies can have just as much fun as the fellas. And with Adele Lim directing and Cherry Chevapravatdumrong and Teresa Hsiao writing the screenplay, it's a great showcase for funny Asian women both in front of and behind the camera. It may not break any new ground, but it doesn't have to. Instead it shows us bawdy scenarios from a fresh angle, done with panache and touching scenes that are actually affecting. In the end it's a joy to ride with this quartet.

"Joy Ride" arrives in theaters on Friday, July 7.