Many seem surprised at the success of Girls Trip. Why? Did folks not think the dynamic team of Jada Pinkett Smith, Queen Latifah, Tiffany Haddish and Regina Hall would be a hit? I get it. Rough Night was supposed to be a hit because Scarlett Johansson is sooooo bankable, but it flopped badly at the box office. Many thought because Girls Trip and Rough Night share similarities, the former would meet the same fate. It didn't, and I am elated. Malcolm D. Lee's comedy is what we need right now. This isn't just a black movie: if you’ve ever been to college, had a group of friends, been in a toxic relationship, there is something for here for you. However, the film is self-aware in that the writers (Erica Rivinoja, Kenya Barris and Tracy Oliver) are able to handle current racial and classist issues astutely without becoming overly preachy.
Girls Trip follows four college friends: Ryan Pierce (Hall) is a successful author trapped in a loveless marriage; Dina (Haddish) is the hotheaded, outspoken, ride or die chick; Lisa Cooper (Smith) is a hard-working nurse and mother of two children who desperately needs to get laid; and Sasha Franklin (Queen Latifah) is a gossip blogger whose life is circling the toilet as she runs out of money and the bills pile up. They call themselves the “Flossy Posse” and travel to New Orleans for the annual Essence Festival. On this much needed trip, friendships are rekindled, sex and drinking are on the menu, and some edges are snatched bald. What happens in New Orleans stays in New Orleans.
The trip to the Essence Festival is for business as much as pleasure, especially for Ryan. She and her husband Stewart (Mike Colter) are business partners who are faking the funk trying to make their marriage work. This may seem like a good idea due to the convenience of it all, but Stewart is a cheating piece of shit and Ryan puts up with his awful behavior for far too long. It takes the Flossy Posse to help her realize that she doesn't need this toxic relationship in her life.
These women aren't ashamed of being who they are. Their Blackness is never questioned, or put upon as a gimmick. From the Essence Festival to the music, to the inside jokes, all the elements are here for black women to celebrate. Seeing black sisterhood portrayed positively is so important. Important in a time where Black Women demand representation and agency in film. What’s most cool is seeing the different sides of each character, demonstrating that black women aren't a monolith. We can be conservative, ratchet, respectable, assertive, exciting and everything in between.
In a refreshing bit of storytelling, white characters are relegated to the background. That comment will probably anger some readers, but with so many movies centering around whiteness, it's refreshing to see that dynamic flipped on its head. There is a great scene where Ryan instructs her agent Elizabeth Davelli (Kate Walsh) to stop using words like “lit” and “trippin,” words that constitute as AAVE (African-American Vernacular English). As an outsider looking in, a super square corporate hack like Davelli shouldn't use AAVE to try to relate to Black people. This genius bit of writing is a teaching moment about staying in your lane. Barris, Rivinoja and Oliver have written many moments like this in Girls Trip, positioning them at pivotal points in the story.
Nothing holds this movie together like its cast. This is such a change of acting pace for Jada Pinkett Smith. Over the course of her career, Pinkett Smith has played similar characters in different movies. The archetype is always the same: sassy, strong and a bit hardheaded. But in Girls Trip she shows poise and patience, and she believes in handling situations peacefully.
But the movie really belongs to Haddish’s Dina. Dina is that one friend in the group that's always turnt up and ready to party. Her dialogue is gut-busting, but it's Haddish’s idiosyncrasies and impeccable comedic timing that bring the script to life.
The issue I have with Girls Trip (which is certain to annoy people reading this) is that once again, darker skinned black people are seen as evil (Ryan’s husband and his mistress) or used to satisfy a sexual need (Kofi Siriboe’s Malik, who plays Lisa’s love interest). There has been a long history of colorism in film. It's perpetuated by the central black stars being lighter than a paper bag, and those who are darker are antagonistic in some way. Movies are getting better about it, but there is still a long way to go in this arena.
Throughout the film, an emphasis is placed on black femininity and friendships as something enjoyable, and also something critical. These four women have an impenetrable bond that is endearing and satisfying to watch. Sure, the plot is somewhat predictable. The audience can predict from the beginning that the Flossy Posse will experience some interpersonal conflict, but they come together stronger than ever and have all grown thanks to their negative exchanges. Malcolm D. Lee has directed a film that moves at an even pace and is filled with comedic beats that will make you piss your pants. Girls Trip is the breakout comedy of 2017. Do not let the summer end without going to see this movie.
And if you don't remember anything from this review, remember this one word: Grapefruit. Trust me, it will change your life.