Girls Trip and all the images you see in this review are owned by Universal Pictures
Directed by Malcolm D Lee
I am so not looking forward to this one. They just kept playing that trailer over and OVER again in front of everything I saw, and I never once found it funny; especially that joke (and I use the term loosely) about infectious diseases NOT being spread through the rectum. Are we supposed to laugh because it’s ignorant? I don’t know, but all that said it’s got a decent enough looking cast and trailers don’t ALWAYS accurately reflect the finished product. Maybe there’s a chance this will turn out fine! That’s possible, right!? Well let’s find out!!
The movie is about four friends who were besties in college, but then life happened and they started to drift away as they found love, careers, and other things that kept them busy. We’ve got Ryan Pierce (Regina Hall) who’s a self-help celebrity married to some dude named Stewart (Mike Colter), Lisa Cooper (Jada Pinkett Smith) who’s a divorcee as well as a helicopter mom, Sasha Franklin (Queen Latifah) who was going to be a great journalist but is stuck writing about celebrity gossip on her blog, Dina (Tiffany Haddish) who’s… well THE WILD CARD I guess. Anyway, the titular trip of the movie happens when Ryan has an opportunity to get a TV show and is meeting up with the TV executives in New Orleans while she’s ALSO giving a speech at a women’s conference of some kind; both of which by the way are happening over the same weekend as the Essence Music Festival. Given this once in a lifetime opportunity, she decides to call up her friends and invite them for a wild weekend which will surely be filled with shenanigans and wine coolers! Of course, things don’t go as planned as all four of them have issues that bubble up to the surface during the trip and Ryan is at risk of losing that TV show deal if things get too far out of hand. Can Ryan keep things under control between her wild friends and even her husband long enough to get what she’s always wanted? Will Sasha betray her best friend once she gets her hands on some juicy gossip about her and her love life? Will the other two resolve… whatever story arcs THEY have!?
It feels a bit derivative considering we not only have had quite a few good comedies this year but a good comedy with a VERY similar premise came out only like a month ago, but I certainly enjoyed myself more than I didn’t while watching this. For a movie with such lousy trailers, it’s surprisingly creative and well executed which I guess SHOULDN’T come as a shock considering it has the same director as Barbershop the Next Cut; a movie I enjoyed probably as much as this one. It’s a film that swings wildly from good to downright awful at a moment’s notice, but somehow it manages to stay charming and a worthwhile experience despite the overt flaws ingrained in its very foundation. I may be a bit cooler on this film that a lot of people considering how many rave reviews it’s gotten, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t have a thoroughly good time watching it… for the most part.
Its closest comparison is obviously Rough Night which this DOES manage to be better than in a lot of ways, but I might like the latter more for two reasons; a stronger plot and genuine stakes. Sure Rough Night had some a few plot holes that deflate things towards the end, but it felt like a complete story with a believable and well-crafted three act structure. The story in THIS film on the other hand is extremely underwhelming and is composed almost entirely of clichés that we’ve seen a hundred times before in much better movies. The story beats feel manufactured and lazy, and whenever it goes for heartfelt sincerity, it comes off as cynically saccharin which is when the movie is at its worst. Thankfully though, the movie is so unconcerned about its plot for most of the runtime that it manages to be its saving grace; throwing off the subplots and drama at every opportunity like an albatross they can’t quite get rid of but can at least pass it off to someone else for a while. The only time the movie feels genuine is when it indulges in its hedonistic excess and downright absurd brand of comedy (I’m pretty sure that’s not how bladders work) and thankfully that’s quite a large portion of the overall run time.
What helps to tie this all together (the lackluster narrative with the wildly unstructured comedy bits) is the cast that is totally game for anything the script throws at them. Some are definitely playing up to their strengths which works out just fine for those characters (Regina Hall and Queen Latifa aren’t asked to do much stretching here) but Jada Pinkett Smith in particular seems to be going pretty far outside her wheelhouse for this movie. Admittedly I really only know here from The Matrix sequels, Bamboozled, and a few episodes of Gotham, but other than the Madagascar films the five minutes she was in Bad Moms I’ve never really seen her do that much comedy and ESPECIALLY comedy this straight up farcical. To her credit, she plays the role EXTREMELY well and brings a sense of believability to the material she’s given, but once again the writing feels like more of a hindrance than a strength as every time they call attention to her being a mom it’s for the lamest sort of “I’m really boring and overly safe now!” humor you can imagine. Hell, they even do a joke with her in here about clothing that’s ripped directly from Bad Mom; one that I didn’t find funny then and certainly don’t find funny here. She’s such a good actor though that when the movie gives her room to play a character instead of running through lackluster mom, she manages to be one of the better parts of this movie. Similarly, though I’d say not nearly to the same degree, Tiffany Haddish is asked to play her role up to an absurd degree which I think works BETTER than what they did with Jada Pinkett-Smith, but is similarly held back some poorly written jokes that she’s forced to work through. To her credit, she plays the role up with aplomb and is probably the funniest single character in this (in a movie of nothing but comic relief, she’s clearly THE comic relief) despite some of the jokes the script has her do.
In fact, let’s go ahead and take a look at what the STORY of this is in between the bouts of irresponsible drinking and bad ass set pieces. Mostly, we’re here to watch someone’s marriage implode over the course of a weekend which COULD be interesting, but it falls incredibly flat here and is a complete waste of a talented actor like Mike Colter (who I could have SWORN was Morris Chestunt while watching this; ANOTHER actor who is incredibly talented) as he’s just on hand to be a plot device. Maybe it was just me, but I couldn’t relate to the stakes involved with the decline of Regina Hall and Mike Colter’s relationship. Probably not the most OUT THERE thing for me to admit as a white dude watching a movie aimed at black women, but I never felt the movie gave enough time to really get us invested in their marriage (or her lifestyle and profession) enough for me to care whether or not it all collapsed; not to mention that the ending is incredibly telegraphed and clichéd right out of the gate which undercuts any tension the movie expects me to have. Sure, the breaking point for Regina Hall at the end is INCREDIBLY satisfying to watch, but did we really need to go back to Mike Colter THIS often throughout the movie to remind us that he’s an asshole? I think we got it after his first couple of appearances and despite the script TRYING to raise the stakes with him over the movie’s run time; it’s never to any significant benefit as far as I could see. Oh look! The guy who was a prick before is EVEN MORE of a prick which means we’re right on track to ending movie EXACTLY how we all expect it to!
There are other small problems throughout the film (I feel Queen Latifah is somewhat extraneous and her subplot is no more interesting than the main story line with Regina Hall), but the thing is that I STILL think this is an enjoyable film. There’s a scene at the end of the second act that we see in ALL these movies where there’s an inciting incident that leads to a temporary breakup that gets resolved as we head into the big finale. The reason for the breakup is arbitrary and nonsensical and feels like yet another box ticking move from the script, but it’s also the best scene in the entire movie. The technique on display as well as the strength of acting from our four leads turns something that could be cliché and routine into damn near a work of art considering how well the characters manage to play off of each other and how well the whole scene is filmed. The closest comparison I can make is to a similar breakup scene from the 2012 Three Stooges movie (a VERY underrated film if you ask me) where the three leads pull of an absurdly intricate and well timed bit of non-stop classic Three Stooges style comedy that’s quite a marvel to behold. The strength of this movie lies in the spots where the filmmakers REALLY put in the extra effort and turn the mundane into something memorable which sadly wasn’t for the WHOLE movie, but the scenes where the do push things further than they needed to are the ones that carry this and will make it at least somewhat memorable for the genre.
I can’t say that I was all that in love with this movie even when it was firing on all cylinders, but I appreciate what it gets right and I understand how it’s something that’s clearly not aimed at me in the first place. I can appreciate what it gets right overall which is why I do recommend this, but considering how underwhelmed I was with the actual plot and with some of the character specific humor, I wouldn’t really recommend rushing out to see this on the big screen and to instead just wait a few months for the home release to check it out. At least that way, you can switch to Luke Cage whenever Mike Colter’s shows up in this movie. It certainly wouldn’t make his role in the movie any LESS extraneous!