FILM REVIEW – GIRLS TRIP. With Regina Hall, Queen Latifah, Jada Pinkett Smith, Tiffany Haddish, Kate Walsh. Written by Kenya Barris and Tracy Oliver. Directed by Malcolm D. Lee. Rated R for crude and sexual content throughout, pervasive language, brief graphic nudity and drug material. 122 minutes.
Tiffany Haddish in GIRLS TRIP is one of those out-of-nowhere breakout performances––like Melissa McCarthy in “Bridesmaids” or Zach Galifianakis in “The Hangover”––where you can’t remember if you’ve ever seen them in anything before, but you know you want to see everything they’re in from now on. As the most unabashed and excitable of four friends reuniting for a road trip in this bawdy, good-natured comedy, Haddish runs away with so many scenes you might find yourself missing key plot points because you’re busy scanning the screen for her reactions. The actress, who previously played the wonderfully inappropriate sister-in-law Nekeisha on NBC’s late, lamented “The Carmichael Show,” brings a boisterous innocence to even the raunchiest material. When she’s being dirty she still seems awfully sweet.
That’s also a pretty good way to describe “Girls Trip,” which exploits a few gross-out girls-gone-wild gags but smartly never quite crosses the line between naughty and smutty. It’s already shaping up to be the surprise hit of the summer, which really isn’t surprising at all once you’ve seen it. “Girls Trip” has some big laughs––but more importantly, you really like these characters and feel good about laughing with them. It’s the kind of movie people tell their friends about.
Regina Hall stars as Ryan Pierce, a self-help author married to a hunky former NFL star (Mike Colter) and so ascendant in her career she’s already been dubbed “the second coming of Oprah.” When Ryan gets invited to give a keynote speech at the Essence Music Festival in New Orleans, she decides to bring along her old college girlfriends. Careers and families have kept this crew––formerly known as the Flossy Posse––apart for too many years, it’s high time for them to all get together and cut loose like the old days.
Of course things ain’t like they used to be. Queen Latifah’s former journalist Sasha these days hustles for a scummy celebrity gossip blog, barely one step ahead of her creditors. Jada Pinkett Smith’s Lisa was once the life of the party and is now a dowdy, overprotective single mom. Haddish’s Dina is still pretty much the same though––enthusiastically talking about how she’s smuggled weed onto the plane “in her bootyhole” and accidentally getting the Flossy Posse kicked out of various upscale establishments throughout New Orleans.
The plot kicks in when Sasha receives a paparazzi photo of Ryan’s husband getting down with “an Instagram skank,” and it turns out our rising star’s life isn’t as perfect as she makes it out to be on television. But her handsome husband and their allegedly idyllic marriage are such an important part of “her brand,” the suspense comes from the question of how much humiliation Ryan is willing to put up with for the sake of a pending TV deal.
One of the keys, I think, to the film’s success is that it’s about how these women all once again become their best and truest selves when reunited with their friends. Director Malcolm D. Lee, of “The Best Man” films and last year’s surprisingly sophisticated “Barbershop: The Next Cut,” shoots “Girls Trip” as a glossy, old-fashioned Hollywood “women’s picture,” lavishing attention on these beautiful ladies in their fine fashions and luxurious surroundings, while also sneaking in some thoroughly modern sex jokes––including something involving a grapefruit I can’t even try and explain, save to say that it in a just world it would be Tiffany Haddish’s Oscar clip.
The performances are hugely appealing across the board, with Pinkett Smith and Latifah at one point slyly acknowledging that this is the first time they’ve appeared onscreen together since the seminal “Set It Off” some twenty-one years ago. Like most Malcolm D. Lee movies, this one’s probably about fifteen minutes too long, as he often tends to get a bit over-enamored with the dramatic side of his comedies at the expense of keeping the story moving along. Nonetheless, time with the Flossy Posse is time well spent.•••
Over the past seventeen years, Sean Burns’ reviews, interviews and essays have appeared in Philadelphia Weekly, The Improper Bostonian, Metro, The Boston Herald, Nashville Scene, The House Next Door, Time Out New York, EntertainmentTell, Philadelphia City Paper and RogerEbert.com. He stashes them all at Spliced Personality.