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Joy Ride: SXSW Film Review

Joy Ride is exactly and exclusively what the title says: an audacious, raunchy, lightning-fast ride with four actors at the top of their comedic game.

I’m honestly impressed. I thought Bottoms was going to be the raunchiest film I saw at South by Southwest, and I definitely didn’t think the one to dethrone it was going to be Joy Ride. But I’m still reeling over just how much insanity it threw my way. The setup seems simple enough: Audrey (Ashley Park) is an adopted Asian American woman who travels to Asia with her childhood friend Lolo (Sherry Cola), joined by two other friends Kat (Stephanie Hsu) and “Deadeye” (Sabrina Wu). While there, Audrey hopes to find her birth mother, but she and the group get distracted by … well, everything and the kitchen sink being thrown their way.

Joy Ride very much prioritizes its laughs over everything else, and it brings them to you at blisteringly fast speeds. So much so that before I could even fully process a joke or a crazy moment, we’d be moving right along to the next one. And when those jokes involve genital tattoos, the rapid ingestion of heavy drugs, and multiple simultaneous sexual climaxes, the entire experience becomes a lot to take in. And while it never reaches a point where the characters’ identities are lost to the madness, much of it is shock value for the sake of shock value (which isn’t necessarily a bad thing). Joy Ride is a unique situation where, in the moment while watching, I was constantly unsure of what I was feeling, or whether I found a joke funny or not. But when it was over and I finally had a chance to breathe and soak it in, I found myself thinking about it more fondly.

The challenge came from, again, how quickly everything flies by. Joy Ride may be one of the fastest paced films I’ve seen in a while, which works both in its favor and against it. The film definitely succeeds in taking you on a relentless, often hilarious ride, and the ceaseless momentum puts you right in there as part of these women’s wild adventures. But on the other hand, the heart and soul get lost for me when they’re chucked in with everything else. The emotional scenes feel just as rapid-fire as the outrageous ones, causing everything to blur into one insane trip.

Sabrina Wu, Ashley Park, Sherry Cola, and Stephanie Hsu in Joy Ride (Ed Araquel/Lionsgate)

It’s also evident that a lot of improv was used, which the actors themselves confirmed after the screening. I’m sure it all got huge laughs on set, but as a finished product, it makes the humor more hit-and-miss for me with the constant non sequiturs and jokes that feel aimless. A part of me considers that part of the fun, but when it starts to overwhelm and oversimplify the character and even the very important themes of racial identity that Audrey in particular struggles with, I have to think some editing tweaks in certain places could have helped.

But does any of that matter if the end result is, for the most part, really funny? Probably not. The title of the film is Joy Ride, and that’s exactly what it brings you. It’s a nonstop roller coaster that regularly uses the lightning-fast editing to its advantage, and the comedy goes to places I’m impressed it had the guts to go. Everyone, even through their antics (and I use that word very lightly), still maintains a distinct personality that helps them work off each other well. The actors’ comedic timing is incredible on its own, let alone with how much it has to keep up with the film’s manic pace.

It’s also clear that those who fall more closely into the represented demographic will be much more genuinely moved by Joy Ride, even while they’re laughing through the madness. I found the conversations about race, mixed families, and culture too simplistic and rushed to connect with them, but their presence at all can only be a positive. Plus, one particular scene involving a video message to Audrey really struck a chord with me. To a point where if Hollywood gave acting awards to actors who only appear in a single scene, I’d say hand one out to the actress giving that call for her brief but heartbreaking performance.

Joy Ride is an insane, horny as hell comedy that rightfully generated explosions of laughter alongside the onscreen explosions of other bodily substances. It aims to be more that and doesn’t quite succeed there for me personally, but where it does succeed is enough for me to easily recommend it when it comes out. It’s as unapologetic as films come, and if anyone wants to argue that comedy’s gone too soft or politically correct in recent years, Joy Ride has come to give them a very rude, drug-addled awakening.

Joy Ride premiered at SXSW 2023 on March 17, and will be released in US theaters on July 7, 2023. Read our SXSW reviews!

Joy Ride: Trailer (Lionsgate)
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