I’ve always thought that a well-placed penis bit in an R-rated comedy is one of the funniest things in the world. Whether it’s Jason Segel dropping his towel and giving Sarah Marshall a reason not to forget him, or Bart Simpson’s nude skateboarding shenanigans causing Ned Flanders to thank the Lord for bountiful penis, comedy has inherently trained audiences to believe the dicks are always funny.
But 2023 had different ideas, and now off the back of the wildly hilarious ‘nude beach fight’ in No Hard Feelings, the latest R-rated raunch fest, Joy Ride, has once again shown that vagina jokes are well and truly giving dick jokes a run for their money! But it’s not just nudity bringing the laughs in this film. It’s outrageously chaotic energy, fantastic chemistry and performances from the leads, and a truly touching emotional story at it’s core, director Adele Lim has crafted another thoroughly enjoyable comedy hit for the year.
Growing up with adoptive, white parents, Audrey (Ashley Park), was a straight-A student who was always destined for the success she gained in her adult life as an executive associate, but never felt the urge to investigate deeper into her Chinese family and ancestry. Her childhood friend, and granny-flat living housemate, Lolo (Sherry Cola), however lives a more rambunctious and free-spirited life as a sexually liberated artist who paints vagina-petaled flowers and phallic playgrounds, much to the shock of her quite traditional Chinese parents.
When Audrey is giving a chance by her firm to travel to China to land a deal that will lead to her dream promotion, she brings Lolo along professionally as her Chinese translator, and more casually as someone who is keen for a free trip to China! Joined by Lolo’s K-Pop obsessed cousin, Deadeye (Sabrina Wu) (aptly nicknamed due to their resting death-stare face), the trio meet up in China with Audrey’s college best-friend and successful TV soap star, Kat (Stephanie Hsu) and embark on a cross-country journey full of outlandish shenanigans as Audrey is confronted with an opportunity to reconnect with her birth mother.
Joy Ride opens strong with its crassness, with the first word uttered being “fuck”, and unapologetically maintains its raunchy and humorous feeling throughout. Sex, drugs, and cultural clashes serve up a healthy mix of visual gags and biting banter, but a lot of the comedic focus draws on the varying levels of sexuality (or repression of those feelings) between the core group. Whether it’s Audrey’s work-over-sex mentality, Kat’s celebrity influenced ‘good girl’ demeanour despite her vibrantly sexual past, Deadeye’s discovery of their own identity, or Lola just looking for a decent dick abroad, the conversations around sex in Joy Ride aren’t just healthily positive, but incredibly funny. The sex scene halfway through the film not only relishes in the multitudes of ways women can enjoy sex (not just the good old missionary stuff Hollywood has depicted for years) but also serves up some of the film’s biggest laughs.
Underneath all the humour is an interesting and touching story about identity. Audrey carries a picture of her as a newborn baby with her birth mother, and despite being outwardly nonchalant about wanting to meet her family and discover more about her Chinese heritage, it is something that is constantly challenged to her by Lolo. The most fascinating part of Audrey’s story is that there is a universality to it outside of an American-Asian being conflicted about her identity. Identity in general, whether it be nationality, racial or sexual, is a core theme that plays out for many of the characters, it just happens so that Joy Ride explores these themes in a way that many Hollywood films haven’t before, and the accessibility with an all-female, Asian-centric cast provides yet another unique perspective into those themes.
Those themes, and the emotions that can emerge from their exploration, lead to a surprisingly touching second half of the film. However, it is an ending that can catch you off guard based on the outlandish jokes that proceed it. That’s not to say the emotionality of these scenes aren’t good, because it works incredibly well, even drawing a tear or two at points. The only unfortunate aspect is that the humour seems to come to a complete stand still for that 20-or-so-minute period of film, and it’s quite noticeable. It’s a tough criticism because there’s no way of telling whether more humour would have ruined the heartstring pulling of the third act, but with the talent in front of and behind the camera of this film, it probably wouldn’t have been too hindering if a joke or two were thrown into that mix.
Joy Ride is unapologetic in both it’s outrageous humour and it’s exploration of identity through an American-Asian, female lens. The raunch levels are off the charts, as director Adele Lim doesn’t hold back on making sex the funniest it’s been in a while. With brilliant performances from the lead actors, who all share authentic and engaging chemistry, this is a comedy hit that’s worth the big screen treatment, just to enjoy some outlandish laughter with fellow moviegoers.
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