Review: Adele Lim’s ‘Joy Ride’

Joy Ride Review - 2023 Adele Lim Movie Film

Vague Visages’ Joy Ride review contains minor spoilers. Adele Lim’s 2023 movie stars Stephanie Hsu, Ashley Park and David Denman. Check out the VV home page for more film reviews, along with cast/character summaries, streaming guides and complete soundtrack song listings.


Adele Lim’s Joy Ride blends vulgarity and sincerity as one woman’s quest to secure her career prompts an adventure of self-discovery and interpersonal connections. It’s a rollicking good time that pulls disparate pieces together for a sex-positive exploration of family, friendship and identity.

Joy Ride stars Ashley Park as attorney Audrey Wilson, Sherry Cola as a sex-positive artist named Lolo, Stephanie Hsu as a Chinese soap opera star known as Kat, and Sabrina Wu as Deadeye — Lolo’s awkward, nerdy and endearing cousin. The film is largely about showing up for the people in your life, and early conflict is established around Lolo and Kat feeling let down by Audrey. The emotional gun on the metaphorical wall goes off before a tidy final act that’s saved by the weight of surprisingly hard-hitting emotional moments, which are preceded by an hour-plus of raunchy jokes.

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Joy Ride Review - 2023 Adele Lim Movie Film

Joy Ride mostly takes place on the Chinese mainland. While major American tentpole films have attempted to exploit the Asian market for some time, there’s still some bravery and calculated political-rhetorical risk in setting a film there. Joy Ride is not a political message movie but does take some time dispelling myths of authoritarian despotism.

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Regardless, the general tone is somewhat in line with the past efforts of co-producer Seth Rogen, but the majority of creative credit falls to Lim, who makes her directorial debut after writing such films as Crazy Rich Asians (2018) and Raya and the Last Dragon (2021). The director’s story, written in collaboration with Cherry Chevapravatdumrong and Terry Hsiao, is a creative and comedic adventure in a semi-grounded reality, a la The Hangover (2009).

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Joy Ride Review - 2023 Adele Lim Movie Film

While Joy Ride is a film about identity, it doesn’t require its audience to fit a specific demographic profile. Some idiosyncrasies and references may resonate with certain people, but that’s true of most art, and specificity is a good thing. The success of Joy Ride largely depends on how viewers manage the shifting tone. The balance between vulgar, deadpan and slapstick humor with heart-wrenching and comforting scenes is a difficult one to strike, but I find it holistic, as if Joy Ride is intended to be a snapshot — if not a comprehensive analysis — of human urges, anxieties and attractions. The balance is thoughtful without being so contemplative that it stops the action, and it’s also not entirely slapdash.

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Joy Ride’s story is communicated well by its cast and crew, with each of the four leads taking turns stealing scenes, even though Park has the catalytic role as Audrey. Wu’s Dead-Eye is especially endearing as an outsider with a strained relationship with her family, and Lolo and Kat’s friendship is believable, if a bit hand-waived. Joy Ride’s plot is surprisingly twisty, and there are delightfully surprising bit roles and cameos.

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Joy Ride Review - 2023 Adele Lim Movie Film

My biggest problem with Joy Ride’s plot is Lolo’s perceived inferiority to Audrey. This tension is resolved, but her judgmental parents just leave the film. There’s a smaller hole in Kat’s personal conflict, as her relationship issues get resolved but a major side implication goes unsettled. The character’s main recurring gag pays off in a shocking joke, though — a minor ellipses more than a major plot hole.

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All in all, Joy Ride utilizes broad comedy and lots of surprises for an intriguing story with a competent and fulfilling conclusion. As long as viewers can suspend disbelief enough to meet the film on its level (and the leaps are well within the bounds of contemporary moviegoers), Lim’s feature directorial debut is a ride worth taking.

Kevin Fox, Jr. (@KevinFoxJr) is a freelance writer, editor and film critic. His work has appeared in Paste Magazine and People’s World. Kevin has an MA in history, loves audiovisual entertainment and dreams of liberation. Check out his Substack at kfjwrites.substack.com.

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