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‘Girls Trip’ Is More Than a Female Raunch Comedy

In Malcolm D. Lee’s new ensemble film, dirty jokes abound — but so do honest insights on friends, careers, and relationships in the lives of four black women

(Universal Pictures)
(Universal Pictures)

There have undoubtedly been more polished, stylish movies released this summer than Girls Trip — even among comedies. But were any of those movies this much fun? In Malcolm D. Lee’s new ensemble number, four black women — the so-called "Flossy Posse," onetime college friends who’ve settled into their busy professional lives and drifted apart over the years — head to New Orleans for the Essence Music Festival. It’s a reunion. Sort of. Ryan Pierce (Regina Hall) is there to promote her lifestyle brand, as well as to promote her new book, titled You Can Have It All; the author, it turns out, doesn’t.

The premise of Ryan’s brand is her picture-perfect marriage to a star football player (played by Mike Colter). But Ryan’s husband is cheating. Worse, he’s cheating with a younger woman — still worse, a vapid Instagram model. This isn’t merely a threat to the marriage: It’s a threat to the couple’s brand, and thus, their livelihood. That makes Girls Trip a little more meaningful than the potty-mouthed tale of women’s high jinks and reconciliation that it’s advertised to be, though it is that, too, and the sterling trio of actresses playing Ryan’s friends — Jada Pinkett Smith, Queen Latifah, and breakout star Tiffany Haddish — are so good that a mere raunch comedy would have been plenty sufficient. But Girls Trip has more goods up its sleeve. This is, in large part, a movie about a black celebrity couple whose marriage is thrown off course when the husband cheats, but who nevertheless insist, for the sake of both their images, on keeping up appearances. Sound familiar? It’s the difference between a marriage and a partnership.

It’s no wonder Ryan’s friends liken walking with her down Bourbon Street to traveling with Beyoncé. Nor, for that matter, is it surprising that Ryan gets called "the second coming of Oprah." Ryan has made a living off of a distinctly pristine, chip-free, highly lacquered image: She wouldn’t be where she is if she’d exposed her flaws. The title of her book is pointed. Where any number of think pieces, books, seminars, and even movies have wondered whether women can have it all, Girls Trip wonders: Can black women?

That’s a great premise for a ladies’ raunch comedy, given that this is a genre devoted to exploring the difference between who society wants women to be and who they really are. Race only complicates the matter. And Ryan’s friends, hilariously and insightfully, model the kinds of women Ryan’s image is meant to encourage: i.e., they’re struggling. Sasha (Latifah) is a gossip blogger who’s run out of material and can’t seem to generate enough clicks to keep the lights on. She could use a scoop; a weekend in Nola is opportune. Lisa (Pinkett Smith), meanwhile, is a mother of two who’s been living with her own mother since getting divorced two years ago — which was also, while we’re on the subject, the last time she got laid.

Dina (Haddish), meanwhile, is the wild card. Raucous and fiercely loyal, she’s the one getting fired from her job in her introductory scene (a coworker stole her Go-Gurt; she struck him) and passing out drinks on the plane to Nola while singing "I’m Every Woman." Dina, as vigorously and incredibly performed by Haddish, is the give-no-fucks radical opposite of the highly kept-up, professionally assertive, image-conscious Ryan. Sasha, meanwhile, is a glimpse of where Ryan, once also a struggling writer, came from; and Lisa, who has kids, embodies the mother Ryan wishes she could be, if not for her failing marriage and other difficulties.

Sounds serious, but it gives the characters — and the actresses — a better reason to play foul than just for the sake of keeping up with the boys. I don’t want to see The Hangover with women (i.e. Rough Night); I want to see an honest comedy about women. Most of the best jokes in Girls Trip have to do with sex, which is our best evidence that the women in the movie need (and want!) to be having more of it. So there you have it. There’s a classic joke about grapefruit and giving head that’s too good to repeat here; there’s a scene in which Lisa straddles a college boy’s shoulders, face to crotch, "to get a better phone signal" (a likely story); there’s Dina calling her breasts her "Biggie Smalls" and hiding drugs up her ass for the flight; and much, much more. Even beyond sex, there are incredible laughs. Are you ready to see Ryan have a dance-off with her husband’s Insta thot, or to see Lisa flirt with men by describing the health shakes she made with her kids’ placentas? I, thankfully, was not.

Lee, perhaps best known for directing The Best Man (1999) and its sequel, stumbles here and there in the filmmaking — the movie has more than its share of awkward or outright bad shots — but not enough to distract you from the real trophy here: the chemistry of its stars. The movie faltered, for me, only when it fell into the motions of the overfamiliar. I’m not sure any modern comedy from here on needs a drug or alcohol trip set on the dance floor of a club; it’s just never as funny to watch actors act schwasted as it is to watch their real drunken misdeeds on TMZ. And maybe the drive toward reconciliation that defines the genre is stale here, too, though you’d be hard-pressed to figure out a better ending than this movie’s girl-power stomp through the streets of New Orleans. At its best, Girls Trip is wild and loose, rough around the edges, but nonetheless ample proof black women can have it all: friends, professional satisfaction, and raunch comedy, too.