The filthiest gag in Girls Trip, among many impressive physical feats, involves the use of a grapefruit and a banana serving as a surrogate for a dick. Anyone who lives on the internet has seen a version of the trick before: an instructional YouTube video courtesy of a resourceful woman named Auntie Angel whose seriousness and dedication truly sells the move. In Girls Trip, the technique becomes all the more comedically poetic in the hands (and mouth) of Tiffany Haddish, a standout among the film’s four sharp leads. Reading about the scene isn’t enough. It has to be seen.
Based on trailer and concept alone—four estranged friends get together, just like old times—Girl’s Trip at first seemed to edge close to being a vehicle for commercialized female empowerment, if handled frivolously. Instead, director Malcolm D. Lee, famous for the The Best Man franchise, avoids excessive optimism and maneuvers well within the dirty tropes of road trip and buddy films. There’s a high level of absurdity accomplished through dick gags, “white boy wasted” jokes, brawls, male eye candy, lots of alcohol, piss and an absinthe trip that sees Queen Latifah finding love in a hopeless place with an inanimate object.
Much of what works, besides the orchestrated spontaneity (much of it via Haddish), has to do with the group’s familial interaction and the women’s ability to adapt to their given archetypes. Regina Hall comes off as a measured, complex rock in the role of Ryan Pierce, a self-help guru and author of You Can Have It All (perhaps a dated book concept). She’s so concerned with preserving her manicured brand that she buries her desires in a broken marriage to a retired NFL player, Stewart (Mike Colter, aka Luke Cage).
Jada Pinkett Smith is strangely (in a good way) earnest as Lisa, the sexually repressed reformed party girl; Haddish, as Dina, turns every scene into a loud, good time and seems to be horny for a living. It’s difficult not to overstate Haddish’s instinct for pure grit and vulgarity (she will be anointed once everyone sees this), while Smith’s performance highlights how criminally underused she was playing a similar, but sidelined, PTA mom character in 2016's Bad Moms. Ryan has a particularly severed relationship with Queen Latifah’s Sasha, the broke journalist who’s resorted to (clutch your pearls) gossip blogging to pay bills but who, on a writer’s salary, gets to live in the illogically huge New York apartment that’s become standard in rom-coms.
A trip to the Essence Festival—an actual concert series set annually in New Orleans—doubles as a speaking engagement for Ryan and a re-bonding opportunity for her crew, the Flossy Posse, who haven’t hung out in five years. The main dilemma, under the umbrella of good times, is that Ryan is in the midst of landing a major marketing deal but there’s a potential career-ending scandal lingering around her husband and a meddling “Instagram model.” As the crew takes New Orleans, despite their previous separation, there’s an instinct among them to protect Ryan’s wellbeing while dealing with their own issues: a sexual dry spell in Lisa’s case, and money troubles for Sasha.
The idea of unapologetically crude women on its own is no longer a fresh phenomenon in film. The blunt sex talk revolutionized on television with Sex and the City (and underappreciated in shows like Girlfriends) has evolved into a recognizable string of women-led comedies that are sometimes overly eager to challenge misconceptions about what women are “supposed to” find funny. These movies attempt to offer some sort of corrective to the endless amount of Apatow-packaged dude flicks that operate under the assumption that juvenile jokes, excessive drinking and bodily humor are solely the domain of men.
As much as the women’s perspectives on these tropes have become so common as to be worthy of criticism about being cliché—and often reliant on the basic premise of “bad women” as shock value—it’s still rare to see a black cast find widespread box office success with lewd material. Girls Trip both fills a conceptual void and has the potential to prove to studio execs, once again, that these stories are lucrative. Even when it goes for the easy jokes, the movie succeeds as a case against homogeneity in this sub-genre, underscored by the significance of seeing black women in their mid-40s (who don’t look it) indulge in impurity, without broader negative implications. The women are free, which means that sexually and emotionally, they can be gloriously superficial. They can be wild.
Besides the laughs, Girls Trip wants to stress how much there’s a tacit security, language and curative nature to sisterhood, in the lineage of films like the classic, cathartic Waiting to Exhale. So this is a movie that leans toward sentimental, and that’s especially noticeable in the third act, though the positivity never gets overwhelming to the point of feeling like a Lifetime film. Large credit is due to the screenwriters, Tracy Oliver and Black-ish creator Kenya Barris. You walk away wondering why Haddish isn’t a bigger star, why Smith and Queen Latifah haven’t done more R-rated comedies like this, and why Regina Hall’s humor is so underrated—opposite Kevin Hart in the quietly charming rom-com About Last Night, also produced by Will Packer (also behind Think Like a Man), Hall came across as magnetic and funny as hell.
The supporting male characters here exist primarily in positions that serve the women and their needs—designated zaddy Kofi Siriboe has a turn as scene-stealing man candy, and Larenz Tate is the stunningly youthful knight in shining armor. It’s a given that Girls Trip is the type of movie you see with tiny liquor bottles stuffed in a pocket with a group of friends. It’s also a movie that’s specifically aware of the minor beats a black audience will appreciate: a New Edition dance break, a You Got Served-style club battle, ragging on white people, etc. Aside from an ending that skews too long, Girls Trip is consistently entertaining and, in addition to making you laugh, it will make its money next weekend.