In a setup that sounds remarkably familiar, four women (known collectively as the Flossy Posse) who have been friends since high school decide to take a much needed trip together after not having seen each other for some time. Even though the trip coincides with a work event for the most successful of the bunch, Ryan Pierce (Regina Hall), the real purpose of the New Orleans weekend is to cut loose, catch up, and drink a phenomenal amount of alcohol.
As with any of these girls/guys night out films, the success or failure depends on how funny and otherwise entertaining the players are, and if Girls Trip had only been about these four women spending time together, talking and being brutally honest with each other, it might have been something special. Instead, director Malcolm D. Lee (The Best Man movies, Soul Men) wants to cram so much in his overlong, two-hour movie that I kept waiting until secondary storylines about infidelity, tabloid journalism, and children back home to wrap up so we could get back to the jokes.
Ryan is something of a life coach to the world, offering Oprah-like advice through her books and television appearances about living to your fullest potential, alongside her husband (“Luke Cage’s” Mike Colter). The two have built quite a brand and are heading to the annual Essence Festival to give a keynote address and hopefully make a big deal with a department store to create a line of products that will make them very rich. She thinks her reunion with her friends will be more relaxed but some of them have other plans. Queen Latifah plays Sasha, an internet gossip journalist on the verge of losing her biggest sponsor and likely her apartment if she doesn’t post something that brings in numbers, and when a photo of Ryan’s husband and another woman lands in her inbox, she considers how it could save her.
The other two friends are Lisa and Dina. Lisa (Jada Pinkett Smith), the only mom in the group, has gone from full-on freak to goody-goody, especially after her divorce. She’s thrown herself into her kids, and her friends seem unnaturally focused on getting her laid over the weekend. The final member of the Flossy Posse is Dina (Tiffany Haddish from Keanu and “The Carmichael Show”), who gives one of the funniest and most unbridled performances I’ve seen all year. It’s not just that her insults and observations land nearly every time she opens her mouth, but there’s a sense that every word she speaks is off the top of her head and that she’s always on the verge of punching someone in the throat. If you’ve never seen Haddish before, this is some of her best work.
The film has a handful of outrageous moments—a couple of the women get stuck on a zip line above a crowd of people on Bourbon Street and relieve themselves with almost too much enthusiasm—but too much of Girls Trip deals with Ryan’s husband’s cheating and the woman in question, who just happens to have arrived in New Orleans as well. In a film about female empowerment and bonding, it seems strange to remind us that women can also stab each other in the back with gusto. More than that, the storyline feels forced and unnecessary, and in a two-hour movie, extraneous material kills the momentum to a noticeable degree.
But when the movie narrows its focus and puts these charming women in a room together to hash things out, the world seems right. Four-letter words fly across the room, and there’s a sense that we’re hearing things that men aren’t meant to understand. It’s a wonderful peek behind the curtain at times; I just wish more of the film was like that. It was great seeing Larenz Tate (Love Jones) back on the big screen as a friend from the girls’ school days, even if he gets saddled playing a fairly generic nice guy. Much less welcome is the deeply unfunny Kate Walsh as Ryan’s agent, who loves to use dramatic pauses to underscore good news. Deeply unfunny.
By setting Girls Trip during the Essence Festival, we’re treated to appearances by all manner of music performances from the likes of Common, Maxwell, Ne-Yo, and even Diddy. And while it’s certainly a great way to break up the action, the performances are so truncated that we don’t really get to appreciate them. Still, if the crowd I saw this film with is any indication, Girls Trip has an appeal that goes beyond the limp plot devices and superfluous storylines. There’s certainly the “about damn time” quality that runs through the whole movie, and a great number of the R-rated jokes land (with very little help from Pinkett Smith, who just doesn’t include humor in her list of charming traits, although her presence helps make a Set It Off joke a little funnier).
I’m guessing you already know whether Girls Night holds any interest for you. But the good news is, if you find yourself getting dragged to it by a significant other, you might actually find it charming and hilarious. You could certainly do worse in terms of summer comedy this year. That’s not a rousing endorsement, but it’s something.
Check out the potentially NSFW red-band trailer below.