‘Joy Ride’ Screenwriter and Producer Adele Lim on Her Directorial Debut

When Teresa Hsiao (“Family Guy”), Cherry Chevapravatdumrong (“Family Guy”) and Adele Lim (“Crazy Rich Asians”) set out to write “Joy Ride,” the aim was to develop a story that they wished they could have had seen in their twenties.

“Joy Ride” sees Lim transition from writer to director in this “Girls Trip” meets “The Hangover” ride of a film where Stephanie Hsu, Sherry Cola, and Sabrina Wu follow Ashley Park’s Audrey across the world on a business trip to Asia. Things go awry when she has to track down her birth mother to close a huge business deal.

The writers wanted a film that would show young Asian women having fun and being messy, smashing past narratives of Asian women as exotic fetishes. This was a story they wanted to tell on their terms.

Says Lim, “It’s a crazy bananas movie and you don’t know how it’s going to be taken across the board. Of course, you want to hit it out of the park, but you also want to make sure the heart is true.”

As the film premieres at SXSW, Lim sat down with Variety to discuss writing the script, working with Seth Rogen’s Point Grey, her casting process and stepping behind the camera to lens her directorial debut.

Starting with the writing process, what conversations did you have about how far you could push plot points before reeling it back in?

Cherry, Teresa and I have been friends for a long time. We’re all writers and enjoy hanging out with one another. For the hell of it, we thought why not, come up with all these ridiculous story ideas? Let’s not develop it and sell a pitch, but just write it. They would show up at my house, once a week on Thursdays, and we had those cheap whiteboards that you get at CVS. We’d started throwing cards up on the board, and it was the most fun.

The story comes from girlfriends. We get together all the time, we do ridiculous things. But I think as a female minority, we don’t see that part of ourselves on screen very often, particularly for Asian women.

There’s a history that I won’t get into of being exoticized, fetishized and sexualized, but through a white male point of view. The solution is not to strip away the fun and the sexuality, we wanted to tell a story, but on our terms. It’s a story about friendship that shows that we can be messy and thirsty with problems but from the female gaze.

Adele Lim, center, directs “Joy Ride.”
Courtesy of Lionsgate

Stephanie Hsu is on this great career trajectory — how did you go about finding your perfect cast?

The AAPI community is very tight-knit. I was working on “Raya and the Last Dragon” at Disney and doing a recording session with Daniel Dae Kim. He’s an old friend, and we were talking about this movie, and I said, ‘I’m going to pull you in for this whether you like it or not. Secondly, we have the script which we’re excited about, but who’s going to be our leader?’

The thing with casting an AAPI-centered movie is we don’t have as many known A-list feature stars in the American space. Daniel said, ‘I worked with this amazing actress on Broadway and you have to get to know her.’ That was Ashley. We got talking and the feeling was that the part was written for Ashley without ever having gotten to know her.

I’d seen Sherry Cola. She opened for Ronny Chieng.

As for Steph Hsu, I’ve been a huge fan of her from “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” to “Nora from Queens.” Thank God, we nabbed her before she became “Oscar-nominated Stephanie Hsu.”

All credit goes to Richard, our casting director for Sabrina. Deadeye was such a specific part to bring that part to life without making it seem like a caricature or cartoonish. They had recently graduated from college and had a couple of YouTube stand-up specials. I had that feeling of ‘Who is this creature who’s been honing their craft under cover of night?’ Their audition happened over Zoom and just Sabrina just blew it out of the water. They were beatboxing and we didn’t have that in the script, so we wrote it in.
But they got together before shooting, and I think you see that chemistry that they all have, that authentic and genuine love they have for each other.

This is your directorial debut, what made you take that step?

I’ll just start by saying I am the luckiest bitch in town. I’d been a TV writer-producer for many years before I got into features. I don’t think I had any aspirations of directing. But Point Grey who has a history of working with first-time writers/directors asked me if I’d be up for it. The first thing I said was, ‘Yes.’

I have this wonderful community out here of friends and directors, Jon M. Chu, Veena Sud, and so many others who came out of the woodwork to help me. My first instinct was that I didn’t know anything about lenses. How do I learn about lenses? The important thing was having a handle on the story. We talk about wanting to put forward female-centered narratives and Point Grey was a tremendous ally.

Without major spoilers, the train scene, the massage gun sequence, and the tattoo are wild. Those jokes push the boundaries. Did the studio ever ask you to rein it in?

It goes back to allyship. We knew it was batshit crazy whether it was a plot twist or a shocking reveal. We never once thought we have to rein it in for anyone because we were writing it for us. When we took it out, we attached ourselves as producers because we wanted to make sure the story was going to be told as it was but also stay true to like the heart of the movie. When Point Grey saw it, their instinct was to go harder. They loved it because it was in their wheelhouse. With Lionsgate, Erin Westerman and Nathan Kahane loved the project and were immensely supportive of our vision and what we wanted to do with the story.

We’ve talked since “Crazy Rich Asians,” and now with the success of “Everything Everywhere All At Once,” are you hopeful for the future of AAPI representation?

Absolutely. Coming off of “Crazy Rich,” we really felt the community coming together, and that was beautiful. Beyond the larger side, it was the creative community poking our heads out of the sand and finding each other.

At the same time, it’s being really mindful of not being complacent. It’s about a constant fight, and about a whole community rising up to the challenge and hitting that bar and us finding each other. So I am hopeful at the same time, very realistic about how we have to keep pushing and keep trying to make the conversation not just about representation, but blowing the roof off the place.

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