Girls Trip (2017) - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies
22Jan/180

Girls Trip (2017)

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Be it chlamydia or divorce - the Flossy Posse stood strong.  The years have weakened the connection between Ryan, Sasha, Lisa, and Dina, but a holiday weekend with just the girls holds hope that the love they held for each other will see them through the rough times and back to each other's support.  Malcolm D. Lee directs Girls Trip, with the screenplay written by Kenya Barris and Tracy Oliver, and stars Tiffany Haddish, Regina Hall, Jada Pinkett Smith, and Queen Latifah.

God bless the holy fools that keep the rest of us from spiraling into despair.  Girls Trip scores its best scenes on the work of one, Dina, played by Tiffany Haddish in a performance so brilliant I was having trouble keeping up with her nuances through the laughter.  Dina showers her loved ones in decadence, sparing a side grin for the old man who flashes her for having the gumption to lay it all out, and lord does she know exactly how far to push her stories.  Haddish gauges the temperature of the room perfectly, going broad then playing dumb before whispering punchlines that give director Malcolm D. Lee perfect notes to end her scenes on.

Her performance also glimpses at the heart behind Girls Trip.  When Haddish invites her friends to pray along with her, she strikes a wonderful tone between playfulness and sincerity without sacrificing comedic momentum or emotional joy.  She makes Dina the unlikeliest of saints, managing to be weary, uplifting, and hilarious all at once in low moments with lines like, "I know you keep me around for laughs, but I love you heifers."  The ribbing is all part of her generous spirit with Haddish making Dina someone whose life overflows with joy and confidence so why not get her friends a taste in the meantime.

Tiffany Haddish, who was superb in Keanu, carves out her space in Girls Trip with a hilarious and brilliant performance.

It's the grounded pleasures, with Dina a holy anchor, that keep Girls Trip from spiraling off into farce even when one of the girls' firehouse spray of urine covers a New Orleans crowd.  Lee revels in the absurdity of the moment, dangling Lisa (Jada Pinkett Smith) in her mosquito net dress before following the old comedic rule of three as the golden shower grows in force.  He's worked in this register before, directing one of the few tolerable entries in the Scary Movie series and the wildly overlooked Undercover Brother, but he's just as comfortable with the low-key drama as he showed with two The Best Man films and Roll Bounce.

Lee and the cast are working with a solid screenplay written by Kenya Barris and Tracy Oliver.  The jokes range from the anatomic, as the previously mentioned urination touches on, to downright lacerating.  Iyanla Vanzant cameos as herself and threatens gossip-peddler Sasha (Queen Latifah) with a Middle Passage experience.  It's one of many "whoa" jokes in Girls Trip, with others also rewarding knowledge outside its world (there's a Shaka Zulu joke that would fit right in with Jungle Fever's best scene.)  Every time I thought Girls Trip was about to settle into a raunchy/sweet dichotomy, Barris and Oliver would pull out an observation that entertained as much as it stunned.

Girls Trip even has time for some criticism of the hashtag woke white women piggybacking off the work of black women.  Kate Walsh, who's one of the few reasons to watch the Netflix series 13 Reasons Why, plays a corporate-approved white feminist named Elizabeth so excellently it sears.  She rambles off a bunch of half-understood slang terms while throwing herself on Ryan's (Regina Hall) husband Stewart (Mike Colter) - an act so nakedly lustful in taking ownership of Stewart's body it recalls the great story "Slave on the Block" by Langston Hughes.  The constant theme with Elizabeth and Walsh's performance is one of empowerment through profit with no social movement or expression left unused if it means money.

I also loved Smith's performance as Lisa, a character far away from Smith's dominating role as Rome in Magic Mike XXL.  Lisa is the sort of character that would have been pitiable in lesser hands, a group project of sorts as the Flossy Posse gets her to come back out of her shell.  Smith keeps pity away by making Lisa pained, but not broken, with her experiences giving her a different taste for life's pleasures that comes out in metered doses instead of Dina's tidal wave.  If Haddish finds the heart in hedonism, Smith suggests a bubble of passion ready to blow with one bite of her lip.

Mid-film dance off, complete with Shiva homage, in beautiful purple lights - this is heaven.

So it goes, unfortunately, that Hall and Latifah are left to play the straight women to the entertaining Haddish and quietly affecting Smith.  Hall and Latifah are fine, and get one opportunity to showcase brash confidence via a dance-off (and I love a good dance-off.)  But their plot threads feel too clean compared to the messy realities that Haddish and Smith have to work with.  Hall has to put up a false front as Ryan, Latifah reluctant to tear down that false front as Sasha, and the two dangle the implosion of the Flossy Posse as plausibly as they can.

This all, give or take a drug hallucination, plays out about how you'd expect but Girls Trip keeps throwing out raunchy gags right through to the end.  Dina ushered in the highs of Girls Trip, so it fits that her enthusiastic ride on the lap of a bike taxi peddler would be one of the moments guiding the film out.  Lee, Barris, and Oliver also take one last look at the heart of Girls Trip with some words on respect and loneliness that bear repeating outside the confines of the Flossy Posse's reunion.  It's a damn fine film, just make sure you don't laugh so hard you miss the nuances along the way.

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Girls Trip (2017)

Directed by Malcolm D. Lee.
Screenplay written by Kenya Barris and Tracy Oliver.
Starring Tiffany Haddish, Regina Hall, Jada Pinkett Smith, and Queen Latifah.

Posted by Andrew

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