Joy Ride (Rated R)
By: Adam Freed
Comedy is hard. It takes rare talent on both sides of the camera to strike comedic gold. Director Adele Lim’s rated R girls trip and travel comedy Joy Ride proves just how difficult comedy can be. Joy Ride commits the cardinal sin of comedy in that it tries so hard to be outrageous that it allows the audience to witness how desperately the film is trying to be funny. With respect to the absolute necessity for both female and Asian representation in comedy and in cinema, it would feel far more significant if the talented cast had more to work with here. Gifted actress and singer Ashley Park deserves a lead role in a great film. The burgeoning star, who in Netflix’s delightfully airy Emily in Paris produces laughs, sentiment and dimension, all of which are notably absent in this big screen miss.
Joy Ride amounts to a whirlwind of comedic haymakers that are far too predictable to land and too impassionately crafted to inflict any pain even if they had. There are simply too many missed opportunities in this found family story, none more so than the film’s primary setting of China. Counter balancing a shock value comedy with some sentiment and substance is important and the cinematic sweep of pastoral China would’ve been a nice place to start. The sense of adventure in having visited rural China is barely captured even in the film’s establishing shots, a device that may have held the attention of an audience when lackluster jokes could not. The joy of a travel comedy is entirely missing here, which may have been the easiest box to check in production.
There should be respect paid to the film’s treatment of the meaningful theme of cultural identity post pancontinental adoption. American adoptee Audrey half heartedly seeks knowledge of her Chinese heritage, but never more than as a plot device to “close the big deal” and gain workplace promotion. The inevitable nature of the film’s third act does very little to atone for the flat and one dimensional character building in its first. Joy Ride misses the opportunity to win in several different entertainment arenas. Fans in search of raunchy moments that made The Hangover (2009) globally beloved will painfully go home feeling that they’ve tread on no new ground. Patrons who seek the heartfelt multicultural representation found in Crazy Rich Asians (2018) will witness a film that barely scratches the surface of honoring and playfully poking at cultural standards and misunderstandings. In the endless sea of cinema history there have been far more comedic misses than hits, Joy Ride unfortunately joins the list of those that prove just how hard comedy can be.