Girls Trip January 16, 2018
Malcolm D. Lee
2 Hrs., 2 Mins.
It’s been about five years since the friends at the center of Malcolm D. Lee’s Girls Trip (2017) had a memorable weekend outing. Speak of estrangement in front of the girls 20 years ago, though, and you might have gotten laughed out of the room. Back when the pals were sharing bathrooms and bedrooms and getting their paws on prestigious degrees at their nearest Ivy League uni, they considered themselves such an inseparable group that they unofficially dubbed themselves the “Flossy Posse.” By day, they’d work their asses off and ace their classes. By night, they’d make trouble and the kinds of wild memories one might later only be courageous enough to recall after three or so old fashioneds.
But once graduation arrived in 1995, the friends – Ryan (Regina Hall), Sasha (Queen Latifah), Dina (Tiffany Haddish), and Lisa (Jada Pinkett-Smith) – parted ways and forged different paths. And all managed to stay in one another’s lives, with a yearly, unofficial “girls trip” usually being the source of much-needed catching up. But with the passage of time inevitably causing problems, with worthwhile job opportunities creeping up and unpredictable domestic lives complicating mindsets and schedules, coordination has become increasingly difficult.
When Girls Trip opens, though, it’s obvious that the members of the Flossy Posse are in dire need of a makeshift holiday. Ryan, now the “next Oprah” and one-half of an ever-lucrative power couple (her too-good-to-be-true slab of a husband’s played by Mike Colter), is in the midst of tirelessly promoting her new book, You Can Have It All, and powering through relationship troubles. Sasha, once a high-powered journalist noted for her work in Time magazine, now runs a flagging gossip site nastier than Perez Hilton’s. Lisa’s a stiff-shouldered nurse and single mom living with her doting mother; Dina’s now facing unemployment after being fired for assaulting a fellow employee who swiped her lunch. All have seen better days.
So when Ryan discovers that she’s been selected to be one of the keynote speakers at the upcoming Essence Music Festival, she decides now’s the time for a Flossy Posse reunion. She’ll have to endure a few professional obligations here and there, sure, but why not have her friends tag along? The event’s based in New Orleans – a perfect party city bound to bring the group’s inner ‘95 out – and she has the kind of celebrity attached to her name that enables her to effortlessly provide myriad opportunities for fun.
The trip comes about easily, and before long are the girls rediscovering what made them such good friends in the first place. Comic misadventures come steadily – think Bridesmaids (2011) but even bawdier – but the epiphanies do, too: at a certain point does this posse have to come to terms with the fact that the lives they’re going to return to after this mini-vacation aren’t exactly their respective ideals.
Yet while the ending that eventually arrives is predictable happy, and while a lot of the personal dramas that come about around the time 30 minutes are left on the clock are slightly awkward, most of the maudlin clichés Girls Trip falls victim to act as chances to breathe rather than total derailments in success.
Because in this Kenya Barris and Tracy Oliver-scripted, hard-R farce, the laughs come so consistently that I’ll be damned if there weren’t multiple instances in which cackle-induced tears slipped from my bewildered eyes. How rare it is for a comedy to work as well as Girls Trip does. It isn’t often in such a lark that every single elongated comedic set piece is near perfect in its execution, and it isn’t often that a cast is this game and this dynamic.
Some of its sequences aren’t altogether shocking for a comedy going out of its way to be this knowingly ribald. There’s the time Dina happily demonstrates the sexual act of “grapefruiting” on a couple pieces of produce. And there’s that moment when the girls accidentally get fucked up on absinthe and have to make their way through a business meeting. (Both sequences, by the way, are uproarious.)
But the screenwriters and the ensemble put so much energy into the comic action that all the rowdiness (even at its most idiotic) comes across as a master class in dumb-funny exasperation. When we aren’t distracted by our watery eyes and our increasingly sore stomach muscles, we’re able to take the time to remember that crass comedy like the kind in Girls Trip almost never works so spotlessly.
But most crass comedies don’t have an ensemble as good as this movie’s, either. These actresses have the kind of immediate chemistry that instantaneously convinces us that they have, in fact, been buddies for 20 years. (Little nuances, such as the time Latifah merrily raps along to a favorite hip-hop track and Pinkett-Smith says “That’s misogynist,” help beckon in a lived-in rapport that deepens our incessant chuckles.) But they also possess a necessary and off-the-cuff go-for-broke attitude that suits the material well. Stand-up turned on-screen comedienne Haddish, as dynamite and lovable as she is an instant star, especially soars.
Perhaps its flirtations with conflict-informed drama around conclusion time deter at least some of the balls-out, foam-mouthed humor. There’s no need for saccharinity here when the hilarities are so no-bullshit. But so few comedies of 2017 have prompted laughs this loud and this long – or introduced us to a talent as major as Haddish. I won’t be surprised if a sequel makes its way into the zeitgeist sometime this year or next, but I still hold out hope that Girls Trip will get to stand alone as a singular, lively comic statement. In a genre so rocky, it’s a pleasure to bask in a film that so seamlessly comes together. B+