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Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Review: Girls Trip (2017)

* * *

Director: Malcolm D. Lee
Starring: Regina Hall, Queen Latifah, Jada Pinkett Smith, Tiffany Haddish

And so the summer of women behaving badly continues and arguably reaches its carefree high point with Girls Trip. No strippers are killed. No Americans acting ugly abroad. It's just four friends, having a good time, getting a little wild, causing a little trouble. It's funny, it's raunchy, it's got a dance battle, a sing-along, a brawl, and a pretty solid Set It Off reference. At a shade over 2 hours Girls Trip is a little baggier than it needs to be, a result of more cameos than strictly necessary and more narrative/character complications than it requires to work, but overall it's a pretty good time and it definitely makes the most of its R rating.

The friends are Ryan (Regina Hall), a lifestyle guru who is one half of a popular "brand" with her ex-NFL player husband, Stewart (Mike Colter); Sasha (Queen Latifah), a gossip columnist secretly struggling to keep her head above water financially; Lisa (Jada Pinkett Smith), a single mother still recovering from her divorce after two years; and Dina (Tiffany Haddish), who's all about having fun. The four were inseparable in college but in the twenty years since have drifted apart - which has been facilitated, in part, by a professional rift between Ryan and Sasha - and now rarely get together. When Ryan is selected to be the keynote speaker at the Essence Music Festival she thinks it's the perfect chance to put the band back together, inviting everyone along for a weekend in New Orleans, but once they get there the problems in Ryan's personal life that she has been desperate to keep secret begin to come out.

A movie like Girls Trip lives and dies on the strength of its cast and the women assembled here work together marvelously. Hall anchors the proceedings as the most fully fleshed out character, a woman who has ascended to the top of her profession but now finds herself feeling like she has to choose between personal happiness and the public image on which she has built her career. Most of the film's plot turnings revolve around revelations about her marriage, the reactions of the other women to the choices that she's made, and attempts to alternately cover her secrets up or bring them to light. Latifah and Pinkett Smith get a smaller share of the narrative, given just enough backstory to make each seem distinct, but make the most of what they get, with Latifah demonstrating a keen ability as a physical comedian in one of the film's funniest sequences.

But the film essentially belongs to Haddish, who gives a go for broke performance for the ages. Her presence is like an adrenaline shot in a story that's pretty high energy to begin with and she's the centerpiece performer in what is easily the most hilariously uninhibited comedy sequence I've seen this year (and just to be clear, for those who have seen it and those who are going to see it, I'm talking about the grapefruit thing, not the ziplining thing, which was just gross). It's the kind of scene that's in a class of its own in terms of audacity and Haddish's ability to gleefully throw herself into any kind of comedic situation and take it to its absolute limit is more than enough to make you brush past the fact that she's about a decade younger than the three women she supposedly went to college with.

Girls Trip is a solid comedy. It can be crude, but it doesn't rely on humiliating its characters in order to get a laugh (not that there aren't moments in the film that qualify for humiliation, but those moments tend to be immediately followed by one or the other of the women taking back control of the incident and turning it into something they can laugh about rather than at), and even when it becomes unnecessarily busy towards the end, it does it in a way that is at least character-based. All in all it's a pretty fine way to cap the summer movie season as we head towards the afterthoughts of August movie programming.

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