Is “Joy Ride” the best comedy to release this year?
TOP 5 THINGS ABOUT JOY RIDE
5. The Gags
The script for Joy Ride is written by Cherry Chevapravatdumrong and Teresa Hsiao. Both Chevapravatdumrong and Hsiao are regular collaborators of Seth MacFarlane’s, working in the past on shows such as Family Guy, American Dad!, and The Orville. And that certainly comes through both in terms of the construction of the gags themselves and in the sheer amount of jokes per minute. This is a film with both quantity and quality when it comes to gags, and while it certainly doesn’t shy away from great one-liners (a particular line about a character sexually fantasizing about Splinter from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles will be seared into my brain for the foreseeable future), so many of the script’s funniest gags are expressed physically through action and movement.
This, alongside its globe-trotting scale and Paul Yee’s expansive cinematography, make for a delightfully cinematic comedy that takes full advantage of the big screen to deliver maximum impact.
4. The Core Four
Another key element of what makes Joy Ride so deliriously effective is its insanely stacked cast. The four primary performers here, Ashley Park, Sherry Cola, Stephanie Hsu, and Sabrina Wu, are all wonderful and have fantastic chemistry together. The script sets each of them up with their own very unique relationships with one another and gradually intertwines them into a single unified front in a way that feels authentic and organic, largely thanks to their standout performances.
Everyone gets their own moments to shine, and the script and Adele Lim’s direction do a phenomenal job of highlighting each of their own individual character arcs. They are also just all very, very funny performers, capable of often incredible line readings and physicality. Stephanie Hsu in particular, fresh off of an Academy Award nomination for Everything Everywhere All at Once and an incredible performance in Poker Face, is insanely funny here.
3. The Emotional Heft
One of the most surprising elements of Joy Ride is the sheer amount of vulnerable emotionality at its core, which turns out to be one of the film’s greatest strengths. The film opens in entirely familiar fashion: characters are established, the central narrative is set-up and kicked off, crude jokes fly, etc. But there’s a line early on that feels indicative of the Joy Ride’s approach as a whole: “Some may see it as shock value, but I see it as a way to start a conversation.”
Joy Ride uses its familiar narrative structure (from initial struggles, to a scene where all of the central characters get high, right down to an end of the second act character disagreement) as something of a Trojan Horse, with untold amounts of authentic emotion stowed away inside, which gradually reveals itself over the course of the film. By the end of the film, the narrative mechanics which set the story in motion have entirely fallen away, in favor of the film embracing its characters and emotions wholeheartedly. The film’s climax isn’t narratively driven in the least, but rather, solely dictated by the characters themselves, and it is all the better for it.
2. Adele Lim’s Direction
Joy Ride is Adele Lim’s directorial debut, and she absolutely knocks it out of the park. Best known previously for serving as a writer on films such as Crazy Rich Asians and Raya and the Last Dragon, Lim’s storytelling instincts absolutely carry over into her work behind the camera in profound ways. I’ve spoken already about how powerful the film’s emotional and thematic work is, and so much of that stems from Lim’s direction.
Alongside cinematographer Paul Yee, Lim captures the film visually in big, broad strokes that enhance the comedy setpieces in every way, while keeping the audience ruthlessly rooted in the characters and their respective conflicts. It is this steadfast commitment to character and theme above all else that makes the ending’s emotional wallop hit so hard: Lim has been pulling us deeper and deeper into the lives of these characters all this time, in such subversive and stellar fashion.
1. Ashley Park
This is probably cheating a bit, as Ashley Park is part of the core four mentioned earlier, but she absolutely deserves a spot all her own. Because Ashley Park delivers an absolutely phenomenal performance in Joy Ride. As lead character Audrey Sullivan, Park not only carries the bulk of the story upon her shoulders but also has the most pathos-laden character arc of the entire film. There are numerous key scenes late in the film that walk such a tonal tightrope that, in the hands of a lesser director or a more uncertain performer, could absolutely land with a thud. But in the hands of Adele Lim and Ashley Park, they’re nothing short of miraculous.
In the age of streaming, the theatrical comedy film has nearly gone extinct. Not at all dissimilar to the way in which Disney funneling both Pixar and the studio’s own animated feature films straight to Disney+ conditioned mainstream audiences to simply forego a trip to the theater in favor of waiting a few weeks for the streaming releases, the overabundance of comedy films on Netflix, Hulu, and other streaming services have conditioned audiences to expect big laughs from their small screen.
This issue has only been exacerbated by the filmic quality of the comedy films themselves. Throughout the late ‘90s and early ‘00s, comedy films took a hard left-turn into being more delivery devices for one-liners and jokes than they were actual films. Long gone were the days of film pioneers, ala Charlie Chaplin, pushing the medium forward with each new gag. While there were certainly modern outliers (such as Boots Riley, Greta Gerwig, or Paul King), a huge part of the reason that comedy was so easily consumed by streaming services was that so many of the entries in the genre had lost any interest in actually being cinematic.
Into this environment enters Adele Lim’s Joy Ride, a film whose answer to the question of how to make the theatrically-released comedy relevant again is simple: make a cinematically audacious, surprisingly emotional, and side-splittingly funny work that stands proudly on its own merits.
In short, Joy Ride is fantastic. While it will undoubtedly find a large portion of its audience in later streaming releases, it is one thousand percent a comedy film that deserves to be seen on the big screen. It’s an incredibly well-crafted and deceptively emotional comedy that brings the humor, heart, and joy one could hope for.