This gal pal comedy is at its heart a sweet story about identity and friendship. But boy is it wrapped in raunch! Adele Lim’s (Oscar nominee for co-writing Crazy Rich Asians) directorial debut, Joy Ride mostly takes place over a few days in China. Audrey (Ashley Park, “Emily in Paris”, “Beef”) is a high-powered lawyer on a business trip there, and closing a big deal is her ticket to making partner. She takes along her oldest friend Lolo (“Claws”, “Good Trouble”), an artist whose work is highly sexual in nature as is just about everything that comes out of her mouth. Kat’s awkward K-Pop obsessed cousin Deadeye (Sabrina Wu, a non-binary comedian) just happens to show up at the airport and insinuates themself into the crazy crew. And in Beijing Audrey connects with her bestie college roomie Kat (Stephanie Hsu, Everything Everywhere All at Once) who is now a star in Chinese historical dramas. And before you know it, the big promotion garnering business deal isn’t looking so promising and Audrey and her pals are on a big cross China adventure.
Audrey and Lolo meet at the beginning of the film on the playground in a town aptly named White Hills. Audrey is a newly adopted kid with white parents who very awkwardly approach a Chinese couple and ask if their daughters can play together. And after Lolo takes down a playground bigot in two seconds, they become fast friends bonding over being the only Asian kids in town. Fast forward to the present and they’re still friends even if they are as different as you can imagine. Audrey has almost no connection to her Chineseness, so she asks Lolo who has grown up in a Chinese family come along on the trip as her translator.
When she meets up with Kat, it turns out her once wild old roomie is in a relationship with a really hot actor (Desmond Chiam) who is sadly a “let’s wait until we’re married” Christian. And then that deal that seemed like a piece of cake begins to look more remote when the Chinese businessman (Ronny Chieng) talks about the importance of Audrey’s connection to her Chinese heritage. Lolo offers up that Audrey is in China to meet her birth mother, and the businessman tells her to bring her mother along to the signing. And so now she has to find her. And the four of them are off into the wilds of China.
What follows in a mad mess of trains and cars, and narrow escapes, and rescues by a basketball team, and even a K-Pop subterfuge to get them across a border. It’s silly and funny and yes, quite raunchy. It’s been compared to Bridesmaids, and that’s probably fair. But Road Trip has the added layer of identity and friendship. The third act sputters a bit, but all in all I enjoyed it. If you’re up for a buddy flick, heavy on sometimes explicit women’s sexuality with a Chinese bent, this is the film for you!