Starring: Regina Hall, Queen Latifah, Jada Pinkett Smith, Tiffany Haddish, Mike Colter, Kate Walsh, Larenz Tate, Deborah Ayorinde
Rated R for Crude and Sexual Content Throughout, Pervasive Language, Brief Graphic Nudity and Drug Material
"Bridesmaids" opened the door for women in raunchy romantic comedies. It broke through the cultural mainstay where women were expected to be either Catherine Trammell or June Cleaver. That's a good thing, since women have long since proved that they can be just as much at home in rude, crude and vulgar movies as the men. And while "Girls Trip" doesn't break any new ground, it's a hell of a lot funnier than anything Seth Rogen and the other Frat Packers have done in years.
Ryan Pierce (Hall) is living the dream. She's married to a wonderful guy, an ex-baseball player named Stuart (Colter), and has become the self-help queen of the US. She's agreed to speak at the Essence Expo in New Orleans, and has invited her estranged best friends, once dubbed "The Flossy Posse," to come with her. They've all changed since their college days (mostly); Sasha (Latifah) now runs a celebrity gossip website, Lisa (Smith) is an divorcee who hasn't let her hair down in years and has become wound way too tight, and Dina (Haddish) is still a live wire whose foul mouth and antics just got her fired. Things get off to a bad start as soon as they land, which Sasha gets a tip that Stuart has been cheating on Ryan with an Instagram model named Simone (Ayorinde). Needless to say, this trip will not go down without a few crazy escapades.
"Girls Trip" works because its well crafted. All the actresses sell their characters (if not much else), and they understand the concept of comic timing. There's no awful improve like there would be in a Will Ferrell or, god forbid, a Seth Rogen comedy. Director Malcolm D. Lee understands that comedy comes from situation and character, not simply being crude. Don't get me wrong, there's plenty of off color humor to be found here, including a bit with a grapefruit and a banana that has to be seen to be believed. But the characters don't just stand around smoking pot and shooting their mouths off.
Like the aforementioned "Bridesmaids," this is really two movies in one. The first is, obviously, the wild weekend of old friends reconnecting through sex, drinking in debauchery. This part of the film contains more than a few scenes that are worth the price of admission alone. The second is a melodrama about friendship, girl power, and female independence. This stuff isn't bad, in fact it's pretty involving. It's just that the writing isn't strong enough for it to be on an equal playing field with the drunken shenanigans.
Those who are familiar with F. Gary Gray's underrated 1995 heist thriller "Set it Off" will recognize the fact that this is the first time in 22 years that Jada Pinkett Smith and Queen Latifah have shared the screen. It's great to see them again, especially considering that neither one of them gets the recognition they deserve. They're not as strong as they have been in other, better movies, but that's okay, considering that they're such appealing actresses. Actually, Latifah and Smith are in supporting roles. The real star of the film is Regina Hall, who ably handles the comedy and drama required of her. She's certainly come a long way from "Scary Movie." Up and coming actress Tiffany Haddish steals her scenes as the politically incorrect and unfiltered Dina. She's obviously been inspired by Megan from "Bridesmaids," but she's unlikely to get an Oscar nomination like Melissa McCarthy. The supporting characters are adequate, although Kate Walsh is unbearably annoying as Ryan's agent. She acts like she's in the ugly stepchild of "Neighbors" and "The Office." Larenz Tate, who has never really impressed me with his acting abilities, is surprisingly charming as the old friend who may just be the one Ryan needs.
"Girls Trip," in addition to having a totally forgettable title, runs on too long. In general, a comedy can only sustain itself for 90 minutes before it runs out of steam. This one lasts just a hair over two hours. Lee clearly wants the drama and the comedy to be balanced, but it doesn't really work. The writing just isn't there and because of how Lee handles it, it feels clunky and maudlin rather than touching and moving.
There are definitely some times when the film drags, but they're offset by scenes that left me roaring with laughter. Fair trade.