Few raunchy comedies balance disgusting glee with actual heart but that is exactly why Adele Lim's Joy Ride stands out. This isn't a female-led The Hangover or another Girls Trip. Well, it is the latter one but it's also a surprisingly effective film about friendship and identity. Drugs, sex, and a very creative tattoo all play a part but what emerges from all of the great R-rated comedy is something sweeter than you may expect.
Audrey (Ashley Park) is a driven career woman. She is an Asian American adoptee of two wonderful white parents. Lolo (Sherry Cola) was the only other Asian kid in the suburbs and the two have been long-life friends for decades. They are also total opposites. Aubrey is a buttoned-up lawyer and Lolo is an artist who makes sex-positive pieces that match her "say whatever" attitude. When Audrey gets sent to China to close a big deal, she brings Lolo along as her Mandarin translator. Audrey thinks the trip will be all business. Lolo has other plans, including inviting her cousin Deadeye (Sabrina Wu) along for the trip. Once in China, the three quickly meet up with Kat (Stephanie Hsu), Audrey's college pal who is now a Chinese soap opera star.
The quartet features four distinct characters. Kat is obsessed with her very Christian, hunky fiance. Deadeye is an oddball hoot who is always on a different wavelength. These two balance out the differences between Audry and Lolo. Each actor is given plenty of opportunities to bring their own comic chops to the table and shine. There is no standout as all four actresses are believable as friends.
The plot gets a little more complicated when Lolo lies to Audrey's business partner about her relationship with her mother. Audrey needs to appear more Chinese and so she and her friends go to find her birth mother. It should be pointed out how sincerely different a premise this is from the usual road trip comedy. The third act manages to make good on that touching premise with plenty of surprises and tons of laughs along the way.
Joy Ride is easily the best comedy of the year so far. Its humor bubbles up from the characters and how they all deal with some wild things that happen on the trip. The film is very raunchy but never gross or cheap. It has an honest streak to it that makes you care about these friends even when they are engaging in some crazy physical comedy.