Stephanie Hsu as Kat, Sabrina Wu as Deadeye, Ashley Park as Audrey, and Sherry Cola as Lolo in "Joy Ride" (Photo Credit: Ed Araquel).
Stephanie Hsu as Kat, Sabrina Wu as Deadeye, Ashley Park as Audrey, and Sherry Cola as Lolo in “Joy Ride” (Lionsgate/Photo Credit: Ed Araquel).

It’s official – “Joy Ride” is the summer movie that will fill the raunchy, R-rated comedy-sized hole in my heart. 

Adele Lim’s feature directorial debut is crude, physical, and comedic in a way that feels more akin to something like “The Hangover” than any other R-rated comedy of late. And yet, even with all of its bawdiness, there’s one particular moment in “Joy Ride” that, despite my best efforts, had me silently tearing up in my seat. 

I’ll spare you the specifics, but as far as modern comedies go, this is pretty par for the course. From the recent “No Hard Feelings,” to “Trainwreck,” to “Booksmart” – these comedies, often centered around women, all have sentimental moments buried within their raunchy exteriors. Even “Bridesmaids” – a film where Melissa McCarthy has an unfortunate bout of food poisoning in a bridal shop – has its fair share of sweetness. 

Your mileage may vary on how well any of these moments work within the confines of their comedic hosts. But not since “Bridesmaids” do I think a film has handled the combination of the obscene and the sentimental so well. For all of the tears I shed, “Joy Ride” is a properly raunchy road trip comedy that leans on the chemistry between the foursome at its center to make both the comedy and the heart work. 

Audrey Sullivan (Ashley Park) is a perfectionist to the nth degree. Adopted by white parents when she was just a baby – and one of the only Asian people in her extremely white community – she has never quite felt like she belonged anywhere, and translates that into a desire to constantly prove herself.  With a promotion on the line, she’s sent on a business trip to China and takes her artistic, sex-obsessed best friend Lolo (Sherry Cola) along for the ride. Joined by Lolo’s oddball cousin Deadeye (Sabrina Wu) and Audrey’s former college roommate-turned-actress Kat (Stephanie Hsu), the business trip evolves into a search for Audrey’s birth mother that turns out to be more chaotic than anyone could have guessed. 

While the emotional climactic moment in “Joy Ride” offers catharsis (mostly on the strength of Park’s shattering vulnerability), not all of the film’s heartfelt beats come off quite as strong. Despite the fun they’re having on the road, there’s a strain that’s been weighing on this friendship, particularly between Audrey and Lolo. In order to push Audrey’s arc forward, the film rests most of the blame for that strain at her feet alone. But throughout the course of the film, Lolo makes some glaring friendship blunders as well, and there’s only so much that Cola’s wit and warmth can force the audience to overlook. You can feel those cracks when the film is pushing to convince us that most of this is Audrey’s fault. 

But, even if the connective tissue isn’t quite as strong as one might like, the comedic chemistry between the film’s four leads holds most of the flimsy moments together. The marketing campaign for this film asks us to decide which friend we are in this little group, placing the girls into neat little categories – Audrey the Responsible One, Lolo the Mouthy One, Deadeye the Chaotic One, and Kat the Sorta Famous One. But while the lines between their different personalities are stark, the strength of each performer lies in their ability to take these broad strokes and add their own unique spin. 

In particular, Hsu delivers a scene-stealing performance. As Kat, who has a wild past that she hides from her extremely religious movie star fiancé, Hsu plays self-enforced repression with barely suppressed aggression, her words laced with faux-politeness and tightly wound desire. But even if Hsu stands out, the comedic timing between all four actors is what sets the film apart. That chemistry is enhanced by editing, shown to hilarious effect in a “one crazy night” sequence where each friend gets their rocks off – sexually, pseudo-sexually, or otherwise. 

The crassness of “Joy Ride” is sure to turn some viewers off – as I left the theater, I heard a guy telling someone just how much he abhorred this film. But honestly, I wouldn’t have it any other way. As we move further away from the heyday of the R-rated comedy, it’s refreshing to have a movie buy into that crudeness with such total abandon, and even more refreshing to have that movie come from a perspective that previously might not have been given the chance. 

Sammie Purcell is Associate Editor at Rough Draft Atlanta.