It’d be easy to mistake Girls Trip for a half-assed riff on Bridesmaids based on its marketing. I mean, there’s this poster framing its stars – Jada Pinkett Smith, Regina Hall, Queen Latifah and Tiffany Haddish – between the legs of what appears to be a male stripper, or the trailer footage of Pinkett Smith’s character spraying an unsuspecting crowd with a shower of pee (recalling a similar bit of scatological humour from Paul Feig’s film).
But Girls Trip isn’t another derivative lady-comedy (see: Bachelorette, Rough Night, Bad Moms, other films I ..haven’t seen). No, this is the real deal, a comedy that’s at once hilarious and emotional, crass and authentic. We probably only get to see it here because its huge box office success in the States – black-helmed comedies tend to bypass Australia – but thank God we do, because this is a film so full of life and laughter it’s impossible not to love.
Girls Trip centres on – you guessed it – a girls’ trip. Hugely successful author Ryan (Hall), not-so-successful gossip journalist Sasha (Latifah), prim-and-proper mum Lisa (Pinkett Smith) and whirling-dervish-of-chaos Dina (Haddish) reunite their decades-long friendship as the ‘flossy posse’ to head to New Orleans ESSENCE festival, a drunken celebration of blackness. This proves the launching pad for the requisite shenanigans – hook ups and break ups, beatdowns and breakdowns – and, naturally, a lot of self-discovery.
Ryan’s career is booming thanks to her novel “You Can Have It All”, but it’s inextricably linked to her ex-football player husband (Luke Cage’s Mike Colter), who – you won’t be surprised to learn, because you’ve seen movies before – is cheating on Ryan with an Instagram ho. Sasha is struggling to make ends meet, exacerbated by the temptation to break the story on Ryan’s husband’s infidelity, while Lisa juggles her responsibilities as her mother with her more salacious inclinations. They each have their own struggles, but they’re all basically tackling the same problem: how to balance the perfect personality they’ve built up around them with their respective realities. (Kind of like a school reunion, then.)
Oh, did I miss Dina? She doesn’t have any of those problems. She’s a raucous being of (almost) pure id, and the driving force beyond most of the film’s funniest sequences, whether she’s threatening Ryan’s husband with a broken bottle of (very expensive) wine or spiking her friends’ drinks with some particularly potent absinthe. Dina’s hilarity is testament to Kenya Barris and Tracy Oliver’s screenplay, but it’s mostly about Haddish’s incredible, breakout performance. Expect to see a lot more of her in the years to come.
Beyond the talents of its performers, Girls Trip is a blessing because it’s a comedy with a sense of rhythm, a recognition of when to escalate and play to the cheap seats and – most crucially – when to pull it back. That peeing scene I mentioned before is funny in the trailer, but presumably recognising it’d be played to death as promotional footage, director Malcolm D. Lee follows it up with masterful elevation, creating a rolling tide of laughter that swept through my cinema. It’s one of many moments in the film where you’ll struggle to hear all the dialogue because the audience is laughing so hard.
Rather than follow the lead of plenty of recent ‘party’ films, though, the film regularly pulls back to reality at its comedic peak rather than wearing you out with a sequence of increasingly exhausting jokes. It’s an exercise in restraint that pays serious dividends. I still have some reservations with the film. In particular, I sorta resent that the plotting ends up allowing Ryan to really ‘have it all’ thanks to some absurd good fortune (but I suppose this isn’t a film that wants an unhappy ending), and I really think you could have truncated the final act – this didn’t need to be two hours. But when you’re laughing this hard, who gives a shit?