REVIEW – “Girls Trip” Plays Huge on the Laughs, Way More on the Friendship
by Joe Hammerschmidt
A lesson can be learned after walking out of a nearly full audience screening last week for Malcolm D. Lee’s newest comedy “Girls Trip”: never write off how a movie will pan out before your eyes bear witness to it. I actually think my initial feelings toward the film as I was viewing it, and on the way home may’ve been a little harsh. About 80% of the jokes either didn’t register, or I simply refused to laugh, more likely the latter as the humor involved carries a meaningful resonance, as opposed to the emptyness of the similar-in-premise Rough Night. Perhaps it was because I had my hopes dashed in the wake of the latter film, that I personally refused to accept the humor as it came flying by. And perhaps the funny works better here due to a stronger plotline and a more balanced group of leads, led by Queen Latifah and Regina Hall. Either way, I personally am willing to give this effort a second chance, so long as the viewing public don’t squander their own first opportunity.
Old college friends are looking to regain lost togetherness points at New Orleans’ prestigious Essence Music Festival, each with their own special history. Ryan (Regina Hall) is a noted relationship expert and author, alongside husband Stewart (Mike Colter from Luke Cage), visiting as a keynote speaker. Yet with news of an affair threatening to leak out, Stewart with some random Instagram model, who conveniently happens to be appearing at the festival as well, their business fortunes may be aiming to take a hit. Sasha (Queen Latifah), heads to the Big Easy desperate to keep her struggling gossip blog alive, at times curtailed and tempted to leak the story. Single mom and MD on call Lisa (Jada Pinkett Smith) is hesitant to unlock and unwind, while on a break from being the big mama bear; yet those traits still show, to the best effect. Finally, livewire Dina (Tiffany Haddish) is just looking to flex her “life of the party” muscles, even if she doesn’t care in the slightest about going unemployed.
Collectively, the quartet, aptly named the “Flossy Posse” will each have their own methods of exploring NOLA, enjoying each other’s company, and carefully unwrapping the “elephant in the room”. Dina just wants to keep the tumult on the down-low, the others want to destroy him by any means. This serves as the initial spark for many of the antics, and most of the jokes. Make no mistake, all these jokes go heavy on the smutty. I won’t spoil too many of them, but I’ll just leave a hint: be prepared never to see grapefruits the same way ever again.
The script, penned by Kenya Barris (Black-ish) and Tracy Oliver, who had previously collaborated with Lee on Barbershop: The Last Cut, is just a base framework, building just the schematics. The cast just go hog-wild with making the written word, jump off the page, then back on, and so forth. Latifah and Pinkett Smith, reuniting in a film again since 1997’s Set It Off respectively show off in their own corners. Hall is the most serious with a burgeoning media empire to protect, even as a new young beau, up-and-coming musician Malik (Kofi Siriboe) enters the picture. Haddish’s role is, no contest, the winner. Last year starring as the romantic lead in Key and Peele’s understated masterpiece Keanu, here she just loses herself, turning into an energetic fireball with every scene she manages to steal; heck, even every gag. Many have said Haddish’s star needs to rise with this credit, and given I wasn’t aware of her true screen presence until now, it might be best to keep an eye open.
Casting-wise, the only point where I could feel my eyes roll was with Dina’s caucasian agent Elizabeth (an energetic Kate Walsh), trying to hard to match the energy of the group, or to fit in. One may wonder why she’s involved in the first place, it does reach borderline stereotypical. Elsewhere, given the film is set at a major music festival, a who’s who of musicians make substantial cameos; Maxwell, BellBivDevoe, Mariah Carey, Ne-Yo, even Diddy all show up to take in the atmosphere. One notable cameo whose name I honestly cannot recall, in a scene between Latifah and the celebrity in questioning suddenly valuing her own identity was just the right amount of self-depricating humor for that point in the timeline.
There is a slight balance issue that’s instantly noticeable. Much like Rough Night, there were moments where I just couldn’t laugh, as I knew the comic mood had turned too raunchy, and many of the gags do border on the extreme. Yet the separation still lies in the film’s value of reaffirming friendship in a sisterhood, which feels substantially more honest, less reliant on a cheap one-note gag plot, and certainly more willing to revive lost aspects of our personality long buried by the rigors of adulthood. Dina’s slogan touts “You Can Have it All”, which proves a mirror to those bygone years when the whole world was up for grabs. With Girls Trip, Lee sought the right opportunity, with the right cast in tow, to tap into those moments of innocence that still creep up every often in early adulthood, when one could indeed have it all without consequence. Yes, it’s a little juvenile, a little crude, and slightly uneven, but also very clever and heartfelt. Consider it a journey worth undergoing, one that’s just as fun as it is assumedly real. (B)
Girls Trip opens today at most area theaters; rated R for crude and sexual content throughout, pervasive language, brief graphic nudity, and drug material; 122 minutes.