There have been a slew of films recently that have found success with stories centring on the Asian-American experience. Crazy Rich Asians (2018) was a massive hit that brought a different perspective to Hollywood filmmaking, while films such as The Farewell, and Disney animation Raya and The Last Dragon continue to make audiences laugh, cry, and feel seen.
Adele Lim, the screenwriter behind Raya… and Crazy Rich Asians, makes her directorial debut with Joy Ride, an endearing and funny story about connecting with your past.
Ashley Park (Emily In Paris) plays Audrey, an Asian-American lawyer raised by white adoptive parents. She travels to China, where she believes she was born, to try to deal with a difficult client (Ronny Chieng), with her best friends – artist Lolo (Sherry Cola), cousin Deadeye (Sabrina Wu), and college friend Kat (Stephanie Hsu) in tow. Things become complicated when the client demands to meet Audrey’s birth parents, whom she has never met.
Produced by Seth Rogen and written by Family Guy scribes Teresa Hsiao and Cherry Chevapravatdumrong, the focus is on gross-out humour and the “vacation gone wrong” antics that made Girls Trip and The Hangover huge hits. Incidents like the group taking too much cocaine or accidentally flashing on a YouTube video won’t be for everyone, but at least the outrageous moments are balanced by a talented cast.
The four stars have wonderful chemistry, a necessity given a script that requires characters who can switch on a dime between melodrama and comedy. All four succeed in their own way: Stephanie Hsu (Everything Everywhere All At Once) excels as an actress desperate to rediscover her promiscuous past, while Non-Binary actor Sabrina Wu is delightful as an awkward K-Pop enthusiast. And Park offers a glimpse at the life of someone disconnected from their culture, unaware of Asian-American reference points having been brought up in a predominantly white community.
Layered writing and game performances make Joy Ride a memorable romp that will have you wiping away tears of laughter before feeling a lump in your throat. It’s a great portrayal of the messiness of life, friendship, and family.