REVIEW: Girls Trip [2017]

Score: 6/10 | ★ ★ ½


Rating: R | Runtime: 122 minutes | Release Date: July 21st, 2017 (USA)
Studio: Universal Pictures
Director(s): Malcolm D. Lee
Writer(s): Kenya Barris & Tracy Oliver / Erica Rivinoja and Kenya Barris & Tracy Oliver (story)

“Better recognize ya blessings”

The narrator of Girls Trip has a new book called “You Can Have It All,” a title describing her ability to be both a powerful entrepreneurial woman and a loving wife simultaneously. It’s a message that Ryan Pierce (Regina Hall) has embraced as a brand alongside her former football player husband Stewart (Mike Colter), one that’s transformed her into an Oprah 2.0-type figure en route to a potentially lucrative endorsement deal from a high-end department store looking for their wholesome, successful image to speak for the modern utopic family. So don’t be surprised when this idyllic coupling begins to show obvious cracks (namely Ryan’s acceptance of Stewart’s affair with Deborah Ayorinde‘s C-list Instagram celebrity Simone). After all, that book title can apply to one’s rebirth too.

She’s not alone on this journey once she invites her oldest and best friends to join. There’s the on-hard-financial-times internet gossip maven Sasha Franklin (Queen Latifah), Lisa Cooper’s (Jada Pinkett Smith) single mother/nurse who isn’t interested in the fact she’s lost her sexual mojo, and the craziest of them all who hasn’t grown up a day since their time together in college Dina (Tiffany Haddish). These three have their own hang-ups from over the years that could use a little massaging during a weekend away at the Essence Awards in New Orleans and the quartet hopes to do something about them as well as reconnect after too many years apart. But Kenya Barris and Tracy Oliver‘s (from a story originated by Erica Rivinoja) script detours a bit instead.

Each of those motivations surrounds that main rebirth for Ryan, a through-line that gets postponed. There’s a lot to like about what Girls Trip provides its audience and yet I can’t stop wondering how much more effective it would have been if the epiphany we know is coming was the catalyst rather than climax. The film doubles down on this desire to paint “You Can Have It All” as a means towards a traditional lifestyle of man and wife with the white picket fence, designer wardrobes, and millions in the bank and therefore does a disservice to what it means for the women out there who feel trapped in a society dictating “traditional” as “normal.” The resulting hyperbolic drama adds laughs while also inevitably muddying the film’s power.

I fully understand I’m not the target demographic for director Malcolm D. Lee‘s filmography, but I think Barris and Oliver had the potential to deliver a brilliantly potent and universal message regardless of race or gender. I think this because they do get there by the end with Hollywood cliché thanks to the characters opening their eyes to the errors of their way on a grand stage. In order to position this realization at the conclusion of two hours, however, they also have to augment an already glaring issue to a point where it’s difficult not to scream at the screen. There are so many opportunities for Ryan and friends to accept themselves as their own worst barriers to happiness that leaning on Simone and Stewart grows tedious.

But I get it. The idea of having a dance off in the middle of the film becomes too funny a prospect to cut for the sake of tightening up the message. The desire to amplify a stereotype (making Ryan forgive her dirt-bag of a husband because of the ingrained societal idea that she can’t do it alone despite single-handedly creating everything without him) in order to reinforce it before taking it down is also a tough impulse to avoid. For me these things didn’t make the finale better; they made everything else harder to accept. Because while I applauded these women for finally standing up against gendered imperatives, I would have done so earlier without also having to be frustrated in how long it took.

I also wouldn’t have constantly hoped for Sasha to ditch them due to her being the only selfless and empathetic character onscreen. Latifah’s role is the best part of the whole not only because she epitomizes the ideal of friendship from her introduction (“No I don’t have any dirt on Ryan”), but because she’s the one we’d accept being the opposite. While Lisa weighs being stupid or responsible and Dina being stupid or insane, Sasha is quite literally pitting a much-needed paycheck for her rent against integrity and loyalty towards those she loves. While Ryan continuously lets the image of how she lives compromise the reality that her “brand” is fake (in the context for which she’s selling it), Sasha is willing to throw everything she has away.

She becomes the perfect foil to Ryan because of how similar they are despite differing paths. They diverged and lost who they were. Sasha sold strangers out for clicks while Ryan sold herself out for success. I credit Barris and Oliver for their ability to make this necessary parallel so clear with so little. But rather than let it sit and take the out when Sasha confronts Ryan about leaking the photos of Stewart’s infidelity to get ahead of the gossip and steer the story to a place where “having it all” is having the strength to cut out the tumors preventing it, they ignore it. They ignore it again and again until the nuance of what they and the actors created is bludgeoned to death by repetition.

But I get it again. To hone this message would be to sacrifice the genre. At the end of the day Girls Trip is a raucous comedy and those bits of hilarity are what slow the message down. Simone must play a bigger role despite a still photo providing all the animosity anyone needs because her actual presence gives the women something to act out against. She and Stewart supply Haddish the fuel to go off on her many profanity-laced rants and raves that always go on too long and lose the point to unforgettable effect. And Haddish’s loquacious aggression in turn gives Pinkett Smith the ability to steal scenes as the group’s “Mom” and party girl desperate to escape that “Mom” image. The excess provides the laughs.

I can’t therefore label the whole a failure when its missteps create some of its assets. The film is caught in this weird headspace of succeeding at its basest level despite missing the opportunity to excel at its loftiest instead. And in some regards this deems it a worthwhile must-see that gives depth to what normally has none while also cutting what’s generally too severe with welcome levity. It delivers two great comedic performances in Haddish and Pinkett Smith, a legitimately heartfelt and complex one from Latifah, and a straight man in Hall who effectively orates one speech to redeem every misstep she previously took. Suddenly that repetition becomes the means to prove how what matters is never about what you’ve done, but what you can still do.


photography:
[1] In “Girls Trip,” when four lifelong friends—(L to R) Ryan (REGINA HALL), Dina (TIFFANY HADDISH), Lisa (JADA PINKETT SMITH) and Sasha (QUEEN LATIFAH)—travel to New Orleans for the annual “Essence” Festival, sisterhoods are rekindled, wild sides are rediscovered, and there’s enough dancing, drinking, brawling and romancing to make the Big Easy blush. Photo credit: Michele K. Short Copyright: © 2017 Universal Studios. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.
[2] (L to R) Lisa (JADA PINKETT SMITH) and Dina (TIFFANY HADDISH) in “Girls Trip.” When four lifelong friends—Dina, Lisa, Ryan (REGINA HALL) and Sasha (QUEEN LATIFAH)—travel to New Orleans for the annual “Essence” Festival, sisterhoods are rekindled, wild sides are rediscovered, and there’s enough dancing, drinking, brawling and romancing to make the Big Easy blush. Photo credit: Michele K. Short Copyright: © 2017 Universal Studios. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.
[3] In “Girls Trip,” when four lifelong friends—(L to R) Ryan (REGINA HALL), Lisa (JADA PINKETT SMITH), Sasha (QUEEN LATIFAH) and Dina (TIFFANY HADDISH)—travel to New Orleans for the annual “Essence” Festival, sisterhoods are rekindled, wild sides are rediscovered, and there’s enough dancing, drinking, brawling and romancing to make the Big Easy blush. Photo credit: Michele K. Short Copyright: © 2017 Universal Studios. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

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