Perhaps a self-regulated audience “laugh-o-meter” isn’t the best way to dictate whether a movie is “good” or not, but if constant laughs reverberating around almost every second of “Girls Trip” don’t indicate enjoyment, then I don’t know what does.
Director Malcolm D. Lee, best known for captaining the better-than-it-should-be “The Best Man” series, puts his extensive knowledge of finding comedy in complex relationships to excellent use in “Girls Trip”. The movie quickly introduces the “Flossy Posse” — a close-knit group of college friends that have slowly grown apart because of — you guessed it — children and careers. Its self-anointed leader, Ryan (Regina Hall), is an Oprah-modeled self-help writer who has it all, followed by Lisa (Jada Pinkett Smith), a divorced single mother of two. Then we have Sasha (Queen Latifah), a former journalist turned vindictive celebrity blogger (think female Perez Hilton), and finally, the true comedic lead of the film, Dina (Tiffany Haddish). We’re not never quite sure what she does.
After establishing their archetypes as the leader, the weird one, the poor one and the funny one, the movie quickly jumps into its real draw: the trip. Ryan, after being named headliner of the Essence Festival in New Orleans, invites “her girls” to accompany her to the festival after a five-year friendship drought. That’s basically it.
There aren’t any murders, gunfights or forced prostitution a la the other “good girls gone bad” movie this summer. And unlike “The Hangover” or “Bridesmaids,” Ryan, Lisa, Sasha and Dina never cross the line into downright detestable territory, always acting to protect one another — even if that action involves breaking a 30-year-old bottle of wine and attacking your friend’s cheating husband with its shards.
“Girls Trip” refuses to utilize these women as pawns to further its own comedic or dramatic ends, never indulging in forced betrayals or broken friendships. Instead, the film relies on a type of casual, conversational comedy that seems almost impromptu and reveals to us how much these women actually love each other.
This ad lib vibe bleeds into other aspects of the film as well, especially the camerawork and setting. Shot at the actual Essence Festival, many of the concert and interview sequences — featuring cameos from the likes of Common, Ava DuVernay and Mariah Carey — were filmed live. Scenes such as Dina flashing — and then grinding — upon Diddy are even funnier because Tiffany Haddish was actually frolicking on stage in front of thousands of people.
The shaky, documentary-style camerawork eventually extends itself beyond the Superdome and into the streets of the Crescent City, where a montage of our four ladies dancing across Bourbon Street includes hoards of other festival-goers, smiling from ear to ear, energizing the film.
“Girls Trip” falters, however, when these joyous, realistic scenes are cut off as the frame suddenly freezes on the Flossy Posse mid-action to include hashtags such as “#GirlsWeekend” or “#WithMyGirls” before resuming back to the comedic shenanigans. Similarly, a dramatic turn involving the infidelity of Ryan’s husband Stewart (Mike Colter) in the second act of the movie slows down and somewhat sinks the momentum of “Girls Trip” into a saccharine mixture of cliche speeches.
Luckily these moments are few and far between — and almost become endearing by the end of the film. Ryan’s final speech about empowerment and the strength of not being perfect is intercut with an indistinguishably gushy score; it’s a moment reminiscent of the over-the-top genuity of an early-2000s Disney Channel movie that is so sincere with its intentions, you can’t help but applaud it.
Most of these scenes, though, are followed with more good-natured debauchery — such as an absinthe-fueled romp where Queen Latifah sticks a lamp up an area no lamp has hopefully ever ventured before. “Girls Trip” places these women in positions in which they are allowed to be themselves: flawed, good, independent and funny as hell — and they each love themselves for it. Judging by the audience’s audible reaction, so do we.
Nils Jepson at [email protected]rg.