Girls Trip knows a dirty secret about having fun. On the big screen, there’s no joy in watching grown-ups act like R-rated children. You feel stupid sitting there as a silent witness to the debauchery. If you’re not 100 percent engaged in the participants and their antics, the party’s over in a hurry. That’s why Rough Night, Sisters, Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates and The Night Before all recently made Irish exits at the box office.
Girls Trip, however, will rage on. Nothing groundbreaking here. In fact, the plot is nearly identical to that of June’s Rough Night: Four girlfriends from college take a trip down South. They answer the call of the wild, only to depart closer than ever. But this winning comedy is a potent mix of crass, sass — and, whoa, class. Four African American ladies take the lead. That’s four more women onscreen than in Dunkirk and War for the Planet of the Apes. Combined. None play deadbeats; all are immensely appealing.
The action goes down over a long weekend at the Essence Festival in New Orleans. Ryan (Regina Hall), a Martha Stewart/Sheryl Sandberg-esque motivational guru, has been invited deliver a keynote speech. Already the best-selling author of You Can Have it All (subtle, eh?), she and her retired NFL husband (Mike Colter) are on the verge of closing a major merchandising deal. To celebrate, Ryan extends the invite to her college besties.
Meet the self-dubbed Flossy Posse: Sasha (Queen Latifah), a onetime respectable journalist, now runs a popular celeb gossip blog. She’s struggling to pay the bills, though. Lisa (Jada Pinkett Smith) is a hardworking single mom living with her own mom. And then there’s Dina (Tiffany Hadish), the brash, sexually amorous wild child would probably make Samantha Jones blush. Hadish, arguably the least known of the quartet, is the standout. The actress flexes every comedy muscle trying to make most standard scenes pop. If there were any justice, she’d get an award just for demonstrating how to use a grapefruit during sex. The audience in my screening was howling. Where has Hadish been all these years? (Wait, I checked IMDB: NBC cancelled The Carmichael Show too soon!).
The ladies get rowdy in a hurry thanks to their proximity to Bourbon Street. As usual, the character who doth protest too much about cutting loose — in this case, Lisa — acts like a madwoman breathing fresh oxygen for the first time. The ladies’ adventures are at once hysterical and shocking, even when everyone is stone-cold sober. To wit, Girls Trip will never ever be seen in its entirety on a basic cable network. Foul language is the least of it.
Alas, the good times are put on pause when Sasha gets a paparazzi photo of Ryan’s husband kissing another woman. (Dina dubs her an “Instagram ho.”) The predictable jealous bickering ensues. Should she forgive him? Will Sasha post the photos at pay her rent? She’s still wearing tags on her clothes, after all. At an overly generous 122-minute running time, the pesky plot “twist” more than outlasts its welcome. Come on. No way a film that champions female empowerment is going to allow its heroine to stay with a lyin’, cheating loser. Ava DuVernay, Terry McMillan and Iyanla Vanzant all appear for a reason!
Girls Trip succeeds because of the essence of the friendship. This group exudes genuine warmth and love. They don’t act like four plucked actresses getting paid to like each other. (Maybe it helps that Pinkett Smith and Latifah costarred together in Set it Off back in 1996). When the shenanigans subside, their sparkling chemistry lights up the screen. The rest of us are just along for the ride.
(Girls Trip opens in theaters Friday, July 21.)
Also published on Medium.