Director Malcolm D. Lee is a filmmaker whose work has been quite the mixed bag. While he has strong pieces of work like the action/comedy cult hit Undercover Brother, The Best Man films and the criminally underseen coming-of-age Roll Bounce, he also has terrible pieces of work (which is one way to put it) like Welcome Home Roscoe Jenkins (one of many examples that made me almost hate Martin Lawrence) and Scary Movie 5 of all things (a perfect example of kicking a corpse and setting it on fire).
And now we have his latest work, Girls Trip, which has an incredibly talented supporting cast who have delivered wonderful work (although I have no familiarity of seeing any of Tiffany Haddish‘s work before this), and an incredibly simple premise with a world of comedic possibilities. Is this film worth the trip or is it better to stay home and be tripping?
The film follows the story of four lifelong friends (known as the Flossy Posse) as they go to a getaway to New Orleans for the Essence Music Festival. First, we have Regina Hall, who stars as Regina Pierce, a famous self-help author with the perfect marriage, the perfect career and the perfect life. In the public eye, anyway. She decides to fix the dying friendship and invites the other three on a girls trip.
Then we have Queen Latifah, who stars as Sasha Franklin, a journalist who currently manages her own blog, which focuses on dishing out dirt on celebrities. And we have Jada Pinkett Smith, who plays Lisa Cooper, a nurse/single mother whose life with her two children while living with her mother is probably more sterile than the workplace she works in.
And last but definitely not least, we have Tiffany Haddish, an office worker who recently got fired (in one of the film’s best scenes), who happens to be a very committed purveyor in the horizontal and vertical refreshment industry. As well as a healthy connoisseur in the art of fine alcohol. Or in this case, 200 year-old absinthe.
So basically the story is a bunch of people go on a trip to party and hijinks ensue. There is a plot involved in there but to be honest, it is quite inconsequential and perfunctory. Like most comedies, the laughs (if any) just plummet when the plot is involved so there really is no point. What matters is whether the film is funny or not? So is it?
Girls Trip is an R-rated raunchy comedy done right and it is thanks to the clever script by Erica Rivinoja, Kenya Barris (creator of TV series Black-ish) and Tracy Oliver and of course the outstanding leads. There are plenty of R-rated comedies such as this out there but most of these are done wrong due to three essential arms: characters we can relate to, cast chemistry and a strong script.
Two examples that get it wrong are The Hangover, the film that apparently started this whole ensemble partying thing and is grossly overrated; and this year’s similarly themed Rough Night. In the case of The Hangover, I found it very unfunny because I didn’t have any engagement with the characters and it just came off as annoying.
In the case of Rough Night, that film failed to be engaging not because the characters were not relatable but the chemistry between the four leads were not only non-existent but it is almost as if they have never met before.
The script for Girls Trip is jam-packed with great moments. To name some, it includes the scariest “shower” scene since Alfred Hitchcock‘s Psycho; the laugh-out-loud treatment (or straight-up abuse) of fruits and certain meats that would make men repeatedly cross their legs and of course a nightclub scene where the film’s title takes on more than one definition. It also features the best “human kebab” since Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest. It is at that moment where I thought where I thought I’m glad that this movie wasn’t in 3D.
But to bring all that wondrously dirty humour to life, we have to, once again, relate to the characters. The four leads are all fantastic in their roles and if it weren’t for them, the film would’ve sunk dearly. They all share great chemistry and the script gives them characterizations and enough moments for them to shine.
Regina Hall, who has proven to be a capable comedian thanks to the Scary Movie entries (satirizing the ghetto role with ease, except in the last one), gives her best performance as Ryan, since her character has a conflict of whether to stand up for herself at the risk of her career and the reputation she has worked so hard for. While her character is seen to be the “straight and responsible” role of the film, thankfully the role never restricts her from having fun and reminds everyone why she was such a hoot in the first place.
Queen Latifah is reliably sticking to her character type as Sasha, as she plays her character as headstrong, with an almost no-nonsense attitude towards the falsities of life (Sorry, this is a family site). It is the pairing of Latifah and Hall that grounds the film and lends it heart so that the plot kicks in, while the laughter dies down a bit, at least it is in support of the characters, which is what the audience should stay and root for.
Jada Pinkett Smith is thankfully against type (well, at least compared to her entertainingly vamp and icy role in the TV series, Gotham) as the socially repressed Lisa, whose fiery reputation in the past seemed to be behind her. But fortunately, she ends up putting her behind on her past as her reputation ends up being reignited as she goes on the trip to look for a fling. The scenes where she tries to get back in the game, so to speak, are hilarious since her character is more on a mothering level, rather than a smothering level (in more ways than one) as her friends what her to be.
And now we have the wild card (in more ways than one), Tiffany Haddish. She is given the lion’s share (or lioness, in this case) of the vulgar humour and she is completely fearless and handles it like a pro. Many of her antics will remain in one’s head for a very long time and when it comes out on home video, her antics will live on in history as animated gifs in social media forever. This is the role for Haddish that is surely to break her out into the spotlight. Thankfully not in more ways than one.
The supporting cast are all fine in their roles. Kate Walsh is very amusing as the token white woman (Yes, I went there); TV show Luke Cage‘s Mike Coulter comes off looking solid (in more ways than one) as the nth-timing husband of Ryan; Larenz Tate is blandly likable as the old college friend whom Ryan has an inkling for and Kofi Siriboe is a good sport as Malik, the man with the third “arm” that Lisa has an inkling for. Malik, I mean, not the arm. I think.
We also get cameos from music artists like Diddy, Common, Mariah Carey as well as filmmaker Ava DuVernay, singer Kenneth “Babyface” Edmonds and actor Morris Chestnut. There’s even an amusing cameo from Mike Epps as a street hawker.
The film isn’t without bumps on the way, as it does run a bit too long with its two hour runtime (or as long as this review) and the script could afford to be more creative or subversive with its comedic tropes, like the antagonist character Simone (Deborah Ayorinde), who is played out in a boring and predictably safe fashion.
The film also switches from well-executed raunchiness to moments of drama involving friendship conflicts and a climax that involves female empowerment and knowing your own self-worth, but the transitions aren’t always well-executed.
But those flaws can be easily brushed off (or in this case, danced off) as Girls Trip is a film that is a hilarious time at the movies thanks to the energetically raunchy script, the wonderful cast and the dynamite chemistry; the latter being the longest arm, I mean, the strongest arm of all. In more ways than– Okay, I’ll stop now.
Review Score: FOUR STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Girls Trip hits cinemas tomorrow, August 31st.