As far as talk show appearances are concerned, Tiffany Haddish’s showing on last night’s Jimmy Kimmel Live! was nothing less than a tour de force. The actor/stand-up comic talked for almost 10 straight minutes, frequently cracking up the crowd and Kimmel himself with a hilarious account of her Groupon-purchased trip through a Louisiana swamp with Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith, her Girls Trip co-star (Jada shared a more subdued account the previous night during her appearance on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon). One terrific highlight—a one-liner far more memorable than the usual nothingness stars spew when they appear on talk shows to promote their current projects—came when she described Jada’s reaction to Tiffany’s unfancy rental car. Jada, according to Tiffany’s retelling, said, “‘Oh it doesn’t have tinted windows, I don’t know if I feel safe.’ And I’m like, ‘Really, Jada? You from Baltimore, bitch.’”
During Jada’s appearance on Fallon, she said of Tiffany, “She is just amazing in this movie. Her career is just gonna take off.” Fellow Girls Trip star Queen Latifah said something similar to Fallon the night before: “Watch her, she’s gonna be massive.”
The feeling among critics who’ve seen the raunchy flick, which appears poised to be obscenely popular, is virtually unanimous. “You walk away wondering why Haddish isn’t a bigger star,” wrote Jezebel’s Clover Hope in her review on this site. “It’s Tiffany Haddish’s performance as Dina that will solidify the film as one the best comedies of the summer,” says Ebony. “A full-on star-making role,” says The Guardian. “Breakout” say Indie Wire and The Chicago Tribune. Even the notoriously cranky, typically contrarian Armond White writes for the National Review, “If there is any fairness in the newly politicized Motion Picture Academy, Tiffany Haddish’s friendly, obstreperous Dina will be an Oscar front-runner.”
What makes Tiffany Haddish’s triumph particularly impressive—beyond her aplomb, her audacity, the explosive and mesmerizing nonstop riot that is her performance in Girls Trip— is that a relative newcomer whose highest profile roles pre-Trip were in Keanu and The Carmichael Show steals the movie right out from under veterans Queen Latifah, Jada Pinkett, and Regina Hall, who’ve been doing this for decades (though each delivers strong performances in their own right). Haddish had a characteristically delicious response when Kimmel asked her about this very point: “I do not steal. I am not a thief!”
Haddish’s role of Dina gives her plenty of space to grab this movie by the neck and throttle it—the raunchiest in her friend group, it’s tempting to compare her to The Golden Girls’ Blanche or Sex in the City’s Samantha, though as iconic as they are neither Rue McClanahan nor Kim Cattrall exhibited the infectious, seemingly indefatigable energy of Tiffany Haddish. (For a taste of it, check out the video embedded directly above this paragraph and listen to her tell Kimmel about grapefruiting.) “There were many times that Tiffany decided that she was just gonna go for it, and you have to let an actress like that have the freedom she needs to play,” said Girls Trip director Malcom D. Lee to The Hollywood Reporter.
Beyond the visceral thrill of her humor, I found Haddish’s Dina to be somewhat aspirational: She charms with unabashed sexuality. She is unashamed of her desires, she is frank about discussing them, and she comes off seeming more likable for doing so. This is no small feat when it comes to open discussions of sex in public in general, but given the way black women have been traditionally vilified in American culture for their sexuality, Haddish’s scene-stealing turn in Girls Trip is nothing short of virtuosic.
Believe the hype. Savor the moment. Right now is Haddish’s time and it’s such a great joy to watch. If it were 2013, we’d call her “your bff”; by any measure, she is the it-girl du jour. That a 37-year-old black woman happens to be occupying that space is a small, but reassuring sign of progress in pop culture (the same week that a practically all-male, all-white prestige war flick is opening, no less). Tiffany Haddish is a gift, and I cannot wait to see what else she can do. From this vantage point, the sky is the limit.