Producer: Will Packer and Malcolm D. Lee
Director: Malcolm D. Lee
Writer: Kenya Barris and Tracy Oliver
Stars: Regina Hall, Tiffany Haddish, Jada Pinkett Smith, Queen Latifah, Mike Colter, Larenz Tate, Kate Walsh, Kofi Siriboe, Deborah Ayorinde, Sean Combs and Lara Grice
Studio: Universal Pictures
If you consider the sight of a woman dangling over a crowded New Orleans street and urinating profusely on a crowd of revelers below—no spoiler here, as it’s shown in the trailers—is hilarious, this is the movie for you; the gag actually happens twice. Only a couple of weeks after the girls-go-wild comedy “Rough Night” bombed despite a starry cast, “Girls Trip” follows in its wake, telling much the same story (though with a marriage on the rocks replacing a dead body as catalyst). Its attractive players deliver some laughs, but an excess of raunchiness and—especially toward the close—sisterly sentimentality ruin their chance to shine.
The plot has a quartet of college friends who called themselves the Flossy Posse during their college days reuniting for a freewheeling jaunt to Louisiana for the Essence Music Festival. It’s all organized by the most successful of them, Ryan Pierce (Regina Hall), a bestselling author whose “You Can Have It All” message is supposedly proven by her collaborative marriage to smooth-talking Stewart (Mike Colter), a former NFL star. When she accepts an offer to deliver a keynote address at the festival, she decides to invite her erstwhile pals along—Lisa (Jada Pinkett Smith), a onetime wild thing who now, as a divorced mother of two, is a nurse living sedately with her mother; Sasha (Queen Latifah), a celebrity-bashing blogger estranged from Ryan because of a past business partnership gone sour; and Dina (Tiffany Haddish), a volcanic bundle of energy and emotion with a propensity for the outlandish, but also extremely loyal to her girlfriends.
To be honest, though “Girl Trip” wants to be outrageously over-the-top, it falls pretty quickly into predictable patterns. Though the relationship between Ryan and Stewart is portrayed at first as a perfect coupling, soon to be raised to the next level as the basis for a television talk show, the guy’s oily smoothness immediately points to the fact that there’s trouble in paradise, and as it turns out he’s a cad, having an affair with a slinky Instagram celebrity named Simone (Deborah Ayorinde). When Sasha finds out about that, she confers with Lisa and Dina about whether they should reveal the facts to Ryan; but when Dina spontaneously does so, Ryan admits that she already knows, but is unwilling to give up professional success by dumping him. So starts the script’s overarching concern—will she settle, or start anew, an issue elevated by her reconnecting with another old college friend, endlessly agreeable musician Julian (Larenz Tate), who’s obviously always been infatuated with her.
The revelation about Stewart also creates a crisis for Sasha: her blog isn’t as successful as people think, and she needs a scoop to attract eyeballs to it. Will she betray Ryan for a big story? Meanwhile Lisa is trying to maintain her practical, homebody attitude, and keep peace among her three friends, only to be lured back into her old extroverted ways by a hunky admirer named Malik (Kofi Siriboe).
And then there’s Dina. Your feelings about the movie is likely to be as dependent on your reaction to Haddish’s portrayal of her as your take on “Rough Night” (if you were unfortunate enough to see it) was on how you felt about Jillian Bell. Dina is the story’s raging id, a bundle of motormouth hysteria and sexual abandon, who serves as the sparkplug for most of the wacky goings-on. While Ryan wants to forget Stewart’s infidelity, Dina tries to attack him with a broken champagne bottle, prompting the group’s ejection from the hotel (and an extremely gross encounter with a drunken old man who thinks they’re prostitutes). At another point she spikes her pals’ drinks with 200-year old absinthe (sold to her by Mike Epps in a cameo) and sends them all into wild hallucinations. She also demonstrates, with unremitting gusto, a sexual technique called “grapefruiting,” in a sequence that you will find either hilarious or appalling—maybe both.
You’ll probably know how you feel about Dina from her very first scene, when she spars with a boss who’s trying to fire her for assaulting a fellow employee by pretending not to understand him. She’s already what she remains for the rest of the movie—the very embodiment of Attitude, with a capital A—and whether or not you think her delightful or insufferable will probably be key to your ability to enjoy the movie as a whole. It might be easier if you’re a woman, since men might find it especially difficult to endure a scene in which Ryan is pressed to exhibit her technique at chopping sausages, or another in which poor Malik learns that “grapefruiting” can carry serious side effects.
“Girls Trip” repeatedly swings for the stands—in addition to the various sequences already mentioned, there’s a dance-off in a whisky-soaked bar and an over-the-top turn by Kate Walsh as Ryan’s agent, one of those white souls who embarrass themselves by trying too hard to fit in with African-American culture—but ultimately it winds up in safe, girl-power territory, where the apparently dangerous decision results in even greater success. By trying to be both grossly outlandish and sweetly endearing, the movie is alternately crass and mawkish.
Still, the cast is good—even if you find Dina someone you’d never want to meet, Haddish clearly demonstrates talent in playing her—and there are some nice clips from the festival’s musical numbers. Despite the picture’s being too long at two full hours, Malcolm D. Lee keeps things moving along, and technically the movie is pretty polished, even if cinematographer Greg Gardiner’s generally canny use of the locations extends to an excess of shots of the exterior of the Mercedes Benz Superdome, with the carmaker’s name repeatedly displayed with all the subtlety of the screenplay’s sense of comedy.
For those looking for an unrestrained R-rated comedy with a female rather than frat-boy slant, “Girls Trip” fills the bill. Whether it’s a bill worth filling is another matter.