Some movies are made for audiences. Not in a buck-passing ‘we made it for the fans, not the critics’ way that follows deserved Tomatometer mauling. It’s rather that in certain contexts, a movie’s qualities can be amplified, and its flaws made to seem less important. The Fifty Shades movies, for example, were marketed as ‘events’, a go-to destination for gaggles of girlfriends on a tipsy, fizzy Friday night out (there were, you may recall, ~scenes~). But the movies themselves — weirdly sexless, soap-opera slow, self-serious mood rock — didn’t live up to this promise. New mad-weekend comedy Girls Trip, though, does: on Netflix it would be enjoyable enough if a bit flabby, but in a theatre packed with up-for-it women it went down a riot.
Girls Trip is a spin on a familiar comic structure: friends go away on a trip, get fucked up and try to bang. The female equivalent to The Hangover, if the friends actually liked eachother, or even the black equivalent to Bridesmaids or Rough Night, another vacation-gone-awry comedy out next month. So it’s familiar, but also different: unusually for a mainstream Hollywood movies, the leads are all black actresses. Written by Kenya Barris (TV’s Blackish) and Tracy Oliver (Barbershop: The Next Cut) and directed by Malcolm D. Lee (The Next Cut, Spike Lee’s cousin), the film comes with an appreciation for how black women get on, but with its racial awareness comes more common concerns of friendship, shagging and the joys of debauchery.
It centres around a group of old college friends, nicknamed ‘The Flossy Posse’, who go to New Orleans in an effort to reconnect, relive old times and attend the ‘Essence’ convention, an event for the celebration of black women. Ryan (Regina Hall) is down to give the keynote, a successful writer/personality whose brand hinges on her picture-perfect marriage to charming ex-NFL star Stewart (Luke Cage’s Mike Colter), their rocky relationship hidden behind Insta-friendly ‘you can have it all’ soundbites. Joining Ryan is Sasha (Queen Latifah), a gossip blogger with declining views and overdue bills, uptight single parent Lisa (Jada Pinkett Smith) and Dina (Tiffany Haddish), the group livewire, the kind of fun-chasing, DGAF-ing character essential for keeping the comic scenarios coming.
The energy rolls along with the good times the characters are having, as they hit VIP areas, flirt with hot guys and trip out on hallucinogenics, creating a loose, messy, occasionally raggedy sense of comic pacing. The film leans into to its smutty, often manic atmosphere, with little basic cheats like having the characters laughing as a substitute for joke work, or layering jazzy scores over sloppy farce. Many gags could have done with tightening, and some scenes run on a little long (the pacing problems are most noticeable in the third act; the movie as a whole could have done with losing 20 minutes or so). But thanks to efficient deployment of friend types, and the easy charm of the likeable leads, especially Haddish as the foul-mouthed motor of chaos who steals the show, the film mostly pulls it off.
Make no mistake, though, it’s gutter stuff: gags about ugly dicks, big dicks, dicks getting grapefruit juice in their pee-pee holes. Basically, a lot of dick stuff, the tone swinging wildly into schmaltz and lessons about the importance of mates, summed up in okay-we-get-it voiceovers. Like its lead quartet, Girls Trip is wildly undisciplined but it’s got a lot of life. Conor Smyth