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A Sometimes Wild, Sometimes Familiar Trip

The Pitch: As the only two Chinese girls of the same age in the town of White Hills, Audrey (Ashley Park) and Lolo (Sherry Cola) became best friends as kids, a friendship that has endured despite the two of them growing up to become very different people. Now, Audrey is about to make partner at her law firm, if she can close a big deal during a work trip to China — as the adopted child of white parents, Audrey doesn’t have a great grasp of Mandarin, but fortunately Lolo (an aspiring artist now living in Audrey’s guest house) is available to come along as translator.

The duo becomes a quartet after Lolo invites her cousin Deadeye (Sabrina Wu) along on the trip and Audrey meets up with her college roommate Kat (Stephanie Hsu), who’s now a famous Chinese soap opera actress. And because Joy Ride knows exactly what kind of comedy it is, things quickly go off the rails for the foursome as Audrey’s business deal suddenly hinges on her being able to find her birth mother — a quest which leads to accidental illicit drug use, sexual injuries, public shaming, and some big revelations about identity and friendship.

Vomit Is a Universal Constant: As the latest in a proud tradition of disastrous vacation comedies, Joy Ride knows exactly what it’s doing. Adele Lim (Crazy Rich Asians, Raya and the Last Dragon) makes her directorial debut with a film that’s as invested in celebrating facets of Chinese culture that Westerners might overlook as it is in delivering some new variations on body humor this critic has never before seen on film (including one twist, in particular, involving an intimate tattoo).

There are also some old variations on body humor that make their way into the script by Cherry Chevapravatdumrong and Teresa Hsiao; what would an irreverent R-rated comedy be without at least one or two scenes of projectile vomiting? But even in moments when the gags feel familiar, the incredibly game cast rises to the challenge. Because even if you’ve seen it before, the context and the ensemble help keep things feeling fresh.

It’s a quality ensemble, too: Performers like Ashley Park (reliably funny in her roles on Girls5eva and Emily in Paris) and Stephanie Hsu (make that Academy Award nominee Stephanie Hsu, thanks to a little film called Everything Everywhere All at Once) cut loose in unexpected ways, while nascent stars like Sherry Cola (Good Trouble, the upcoming Shortcomings) and stand-up/writer Sabrina Wu also getting breakout moments — Wu in particular seems like they’re one great lead role away from becoming a huge deal.

Joy Ride (Lionsgate)

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