It’s hard for me to review a movie like Girls Trip. It’s hard for many reasons, least of all, my being a white man writing about a movie that is clearly not made for me. No, what makes it difficult is the sheer uniqueness of the movie itself.
Here is a movie about empowering the simple basic idea of black womanhood. There’s no great cause it’s championing historical, cultural or otherwise. There’s no great ‘message’ within the movie that comments on the current social or political climate. It’s not a biopic either.
It’s just a movie about a group of girlfriends who happen to be black and how they spend one raunchy eventful weekend in New Orleans. This may seem like something less than radical, and if it does, I can assure you that you have not been paying attention. The plot is just about them and how they repair broken and strained friendships.
The script by Erica Rivinoja and Kenya Barris is generic and predictable. But there are moments or sharpness and intense vulgarity. For all the cliches the script may be riddled with there is some truly delightful loony tunes comedy peppered in.
Tiffany Haddish’s Dina is a cyclone of profanity, violence, and blunt loyal honesty. This is a woman who can sincerely get down on both knees and thank the Lord for her blessings. Then in the next scene fellate a banana through a grapefruit in such a manner with such gusto and explicit technique it’s jaw dropping. Haddish hurls herself into every moment Dina has internally or externally.
She would be too much if not balanced out by Lisa expertly played by the criminally under seen Jada Pinkett Smith. Haddish steals almost every scene she’s in. The ones she doesn’t steal are because she has the misfortune to share them with Smith. Smith has a way of projecting a fierce energy into every role she plays without hardly lifting a nail.
Far from having to prove her talent she nearly outshines everyone in the movie simply by sheer charisma and poise. Her Lisa is a coiled snake that’s been cowed by motherhood and divorce. To see Lisa rediscover her old self from having to conquer a larger than average penis to realizing she is worthy of every ounce of love she wants is one of the great joys of the movie.
Haddish and Smith are the outliers. The fringes of the story that threaten to destroy everything with their manic energy and zany actions. Luckily they have two steady rocks in Sasha (Queen Latifah) and Ryan (Regina Hall). Sasha and Ryan are almost studies in opposites.
Sasha is an independent woman. She runs a gossip internet site but her finances are less than stable. Whereas Ryan is married to Stewart (Mike Colter); together they form a power couple so successful they seem poised to conquer the world. Ryan is referred to as the ‘next Oprah’ and her latest book is called You Can Have It All is a best seller.
Of course Stewart and Ryan are too good to be true. After all what would be the point of introducing Julian (Larenz Tate) a smiling charismatic old college friend of Ryan’s who clearly carries a torch for her? Whatever issues Sasha and Ryan have will undoubtedly be solved by the end. Perhaps when Ryan has to give a keynote speech at the Essence convention.
But it’s all the little things that make it worth it. Haddish’s Dina is never forced to change or evolve. She leaves the movie just as she entered it: her own wild and crazy self. Ryan realizes that having a marriage fail doesn’t mean you failed. It by no means decides what happiness you can receive in life.
This may all seem trite and classic lazy Hollywood writing. But there remains one singular difference. The black faces on and behind the screen. The idea that a group of black stars as talented as these would be allowed to just have fun is a powerful one. Even more so that they dare to say or even express anything about what it’s like to be a black woman in today’s modern world, without explicitly doing so, is rarer still.
In many ways Girls Trip reminds me of a little of Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets. Both are deeply flawed films but in their own ways are worth watching for the tenacity and inventiveness in spite of the system that birthed them. Malcolm D. Lee may not win any awards for how Girls Trip looks are is put together. But he does have faith and confidence in his lead actresses. The fact that he allows the women to go full tilt at times while also allowing them to have little moments of honesty is as worthwhile in it’s own way as anything Besson does in his achievement.
I find sometimes we expect movies to be these great flawless pieces of art. That’s rarely the case. The ones that do achieve this supposed ‘perfection’ are often cold and removed from any kind of lived experience. We tend to hold the flawed films to our chest more lovingly because of their flaws.
Girls Trip is troubled and it doesn’t hit every note. It is however a funny movie with great big boisterous laughs and sweet moments of friendship between life long friends. In it’s own quiet way it is a daring movie just by it’s temerity to exist. It may not be for everybody, like myself. But I have a feeling for some, they will hold it to their chest like an old friend.