Girls Trip: Blow You Away, by David Bax

19 Jul

Despite all of the debauchery that takes place on screen, perhaps the most shocking thing about Malcolm D. Lee’s Girls Trip is that it’s a major studio comedy that actually wants you to care about its characters. It may not delve too deep but it doesn’t need to. Once it sets up the relatable emotional status of its leads–good, old friends who haven’t gotten together in years and have slowly changed out of each other’s sight–it has built a human foundation that makes the madness to come even funnier. And Girls Trip is funny as hell.

Regina Hall, Queen Latifah, Jada Pinkett Smith and Tiffany Haddish star as four college friends who used to call themselves the Flossy Posse. They partied the hardest and they loved each other the most. Now, 25 years later, Hall’s Ryan is a lifestyle icon (“the new Oprah,” a character calls her”), Latifah’s Sasha runs a celebrity gossip website, Smith’s Lisa is a divorced housewife and mother who has moved her and her kids in with her mom and Haddish’s Dina is the outlier, still a hard-drinking loose cannon who can’t hold down a job. When Ryan is asked to speak at the Essence Fest in New Orleans, she sees the perfect opportunity to get the Flossy Posse back together.

As first, the characterizations are broad, not much more detailed than the descriptions above. We know Lisa is the uptight dork because she’s wearing her neck pillow around the airport before they’ve even gotten on the plane. Already, though, there are hints of the more heartfelt connections to come (as well as some dubious depictions of modern journalism in Sasha’s masters degree-holding rumormonger).

Once each woman has been established, Lee, the cast and the film’s four screenwriters (Kenya Barris, Karen McCullah, Tracy Oliver and Erica Rivinojah) are ready to let fly with the jokes in uproariously, gleefully, unapologetically foul-mouthed fashion. Lisa and Dina’s vastly different interpretations of the term “ladymouth” lead to just the first of many instances of pantomimed fellatio, each more hilarious than the last. Speaking of which, I’d complain about the endless product placement for Ciroc but the company does get credit for being okay with a joke that depends on their product rhyming with “suck cock.” Latifah and Hall (the latter of whom was so brilliant in the About Last Night remake) are poised as the straight men but each drums up more laughs than that implies (as does Kate Walsh in the stock role of the “uncool white lady”). Smith, meanwhile, is terrific as the domesticated party animal rediscovering her inner beast. But Haddish is the highlight of nearly every scene she’s in. It would be insulting to belabor comparisons to The Hangover but if there is any justice in Hollywood, Girls Trip will do for Haddish’s career what that other film did for Zach Galifianakis’. She’s unstoppable; this is what people mean by “force of nature.”

Girls Trip does have its faults. A young actor clearly hired for his looks, for example, is unable to sell the handful of jokes he’s given (perhaps there’s some balance, though, in that being the case for a male role for once). And, most groaningly, the film gets up on its high horse in its nuance-free takedown of celebrity-focused journalism; not surprising, perhaps, since most of its cast have probably been victims of it.

All that fades, though, when considering how uncommon it is for a film to be this funny and to do so while generating its jokes directly from the individual characters and their individual flaws. Girls Trip is clearly not the product of comic actors haphazardly riffing on set until they reach their joke quota. Here, instead, is a movie that feels like having fun with real people.

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