Editor Chloe Woods reviews Malcolm D. Lee’s acclaimed comedy.
It’s the sleeper hit of the summer, and with good reason. Girls Trip is a highly entertaining, sparkling delight of a film. The old standby of girls-gone-wild combines with an exploration of women-gone-serious: gender and racial politics, the difficulties of adulthood and the importance of female friendship alongside absinthe-induced hallucinations and an abundance of sex jokes. There’s no contradiction here – only a reminder that the depths of human suffering can often be found sandwiched amidst comedy; that being funny is not in contradiction with darkness, nor even a relief from it, but sometimes one and the same thing. (Comedians know this.)
Ryan Pierce (Regina Hall) and her three best friends, known in aggregate as the Flossy Posse, remained close for many years after college before finally – as we’re first led to believe – drifting apart. Ryan, now a successful lifestyle writer and double-team icon of marital bliss alongside husband Stewart, receives an invitation to act as keynote speaker for the New Orleans-based Essence Fest, and takes it as an opportunity to reconnect with the rest of the Posse by inviting them along. From their first reunion it’s clear there’s tension between the four, and particularly between Ryan and celebrity blogger Sasha (Queen Latifah). But equally clear is the kind of worn-in love shared between people who’ve known each other for half a lifetime; who have a stable full of in-jokes and have always, or almost always, been there during the worst moments.
From there, I’d rather not give too much of the plot away. It’s far more entertaining to watch.
The core of the film revolves around Ryan, who preaches about having it all and (predictably) cannot have it all, and finds herself struggling to hold together a less-than-perfect marriage against public scrutiny and her own doubts. Her work conflicts with Sasha’s, tied up in the image both feel they must present to each other and the wider world – riven with old grudges and betrayals, and rendered fraught by the fact that neither has a safety net to rely on if things truly go south.
Balancing this out are the less life-critical but nonetheless heavy challenges faced by Lisa (Jada Pinkett Smith) and Dina (Tiffany Hadish). More exaggerated characters than Ryan or Sasha, they are sketched out with a deftness that builds them into more than caricatures: Lisa is the overly-cautious one who needs to let go, but not only that; Dina is the carefree one who needs to grow up, but not only that. Though they’re responsible for most of the actual antics of the film (guess which member of the Posse thinks absinthe is a good idea), the same personality traits lead them to their own conflicts – with each other, and negotiating their place within the group – with revelations of surprising self-awareness and resentment.
Pulling together a stellar script and cast are set-pieces fit to transport the audience to the streets and bars of New Orleans in full swing, featuring dance-offs, cooking exhibitions, and aerial zip-lines (and moments that will have you thinking, “You’re not going to, please tell me you’re not going to – oh, you did”). The tone remains consistently well-balanced through the film, even while juggling sharp changes – from despair to humour to a rousing speech or two – in the space of minutes. It also contains a pointed examination of black women’s relationships with both black men and white women (and a near-total absence of white men) through Stewart and the Pierces’ agent Liz (Kate Walsh) in a web of more intimate interpersonal power dynamics – though there are people far better-suited than me to pass judgement on how honestly and accurately Girls Trip reflects the experiences of black women, of black women’s friendship and ambition and solidarity and celebration of their own strength. That is, after all, the point of Essence Fest; we hear the words ‘black magic’ a time or two; if it’s a little heavy-handed it’s probably earned the right, and there are few, if any, other films saying similar things. As noted: there are good reasons Girls Trip has been selling out screens despite benefiting from fairly little advertising.
Anyway, Girls Trip is still going strong and I highly recommend – if it sounds like it’s in any way at all your thing (or even if it doesn’t) – that you check it out.
Girls Trip is out now in UK cinemas. See the trailer below: