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‘Girls Trip’ (review)

Produced by Will Packer, Malcolm D. Lee
Screenplay by Kenya Barris, Tracy Oliver
Story by Erica Rivinoja, Kenya Barris, Tracy Oliver
Directed by Malcolm D. Lee
Starring Regina Hall, Jada Pinkett Smith,
Tiffany Haddish, Queen Latifah, Larenz Tate,
Mike Colter, Kofi Siriboe, Kate Walsh

 

Who would’ve thought that a grapefruit as prop could elicit one of the raunchiest gags and loudest laughs from a female buddy ensemble comedy?  I certainly didn’t, and yet I was crowing with laughter along with every other woman in my row.  Girls Trip surprises and delights on many levels, including a fairly decent balance between bawdy physical humor and more serious heartfelt moments.

Ryan Pierce (Regina Hall) seems to have it all: fame, career success, and her position as one half of a popular power couple with her equally charming and successful husband Stuart (Mike Colter).

But when she is offered the opportunity to deliver the keynote at the mecca of #blackgirlmagic sites, the annual Essence Music Festival, she attempts to go for the whole package by inviting her estranged college besties “the Flossy Posse” to rekindle their friendship and celebrate sisterhood. While it becomes clear that the years have brought struggles to each one, there’s no one like your friends to call you out and lift you up.

The chemistry between wild child Dina (Tiffany Haddish), gossipy but loyal journalist Sasha (Queen Latifah), straight-laced mom Lisa (Jada Pinkett Smith), and seemingly perfect Ryan is both fierce and fragile.

Director Malcolm D. Lee is no stranger to strong ensemble pieces, given the success of The Best Man franchise. His skill is evident in the balance between three incredibly popular and established lead actresses and a firecracker newcomer that gives each woman a chance to shine through both individual scene-stealers and excellent back-and-forth. With an unspoken understanding that more is hanging on this trip than a simple weekend among friends, the determination to make it work comes off earnest instead of contrived.

Each is fiercely loyal in their own way, and it grounds antics like a zip line peeing incident in friendship as much as hilarity. All four women do occasionally get boxed into their character tropes, with Latifah and Hall having to work through large stretches of one-dimensional writing that hammers their “career before everything” roles into the audience’s brains. Their dual dedication to keeping up perfect appearances in the face of financial insolvency (Sasha) and her husband’s infidelity (Ryan) can get tiresome, but the payoff is about right. Tiffany Haddish, however, is vibrant and amazing as Dina. Her performance will have every audience member pulling out their phones and searching for her stand-ups while wondering how Hollywood could have missed this comedic gem for so long. The dynamic between Dina and Lisa is one of the most enjoyable, and their polar opposite personalities set up some of my favorite moments which include a hilarious and graphic instructional on the grapefruit as sexual aid. Haddish’s delivery, physicality, and relatability allow her to run away with many of the best scenes, but the duo of her with Smith in the straight man role garners the biggest belly laughs.

The tendency to lean into the complexities of navigating a transition from carefree college friendship to a more complex and burdened adult version makes the movie resonate, but it leaves little for the male characters to do except play the stagnate roles usually relegated to women in bonding comedies. Guys serve as simple window dressing in the form of vacation booty calls (Kofi Siriboe) or vehicles to move the plot along. Larenz Tate is an excellent actor but outside of his character Julian being an overly-obvious sweet and flawless foil to the philandering Stuart, he has little other agency. Stuart is a classic smooth talking cheater and there was no thought given to making him come off as anything but self-serving.

Rare is the comedy that utilizes a 2 hour runtime flawlessly. Girls Trip comes incredibly close to that small circle of films. Though it is not without missteps, this raucous celebration of friendship and sisterhood should rest comfortably at the top of the list for ladies night must-sees this summer, if not this year.

 

 

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