There’s plenty of star power behind “Girls Trip,” including always-bankable director Malcolm D. Lee and big names like Queen Latifah and Jada Pinkett Smith, but the film’s biggest breakout belongs to relative newcomer Tiffany Haddish, who makes off with not only the comedy’s best lines and bits of physical humor, but its most eye-popping performance. Best known to mainstream audiences for her work on “Keanu” and “The Carmichael Show,” Haddish has been working steadily since 2005, but “Girls Trip” seems destined to launch her into the big time (it doesn’t hurt that she’s also got her first stand-up special teed up for an August debut on Showtime). And it should, because she’s the best thing going in a film that has plenty else to recommend it, especially for audiences eager to see a truly wild summer comedy.
Lee’s film will inevitably draw comparisons to this summer’s other girls-gone-wild comedy, “Rough Night,” thanks to its similar subject matter and shared spirit, but “Girls Trip” benefits from a beefier storyline and better chemistry between its leads, though both are solid entries in the comedy sub-genre. Like “Rough Night,” the film follows a tight-knit group of pals from college who embark on one wild trip in the hopes of re-sparking their fading friendships, though “Girls Trip” leans more firmly into the emotional ties between its leading ladies, versus offing a male stripper within its first act and running with it.
That’s not to say that “Girls Trip” doesn’t offer up its fair share of raunchy comedy, and thanks to its two-hour-plus runtime, there’s more than enough time for heart-breaking reveals to exist next to jaw-dropping gags that run the gamut from scatological to possibly illegal. The punchlines are hilarious at every turn.
Tight since college, the film’s central foursome — affectionately known as the Flossy Posse, with jewelry to match — has spent the past few years mostly apart, due to both changing life circumstances and an enduring betrayal that’s steadily revealed over the course of the film, and all of that comes to a head during one insane weekend at New Orleans’ own Essence Festival, an environment ripe with possibilities for all sorts of high jinks.
Ryan (Regina Hall) has always been the most successful of the crew, with one hell of a money-making venture — styling herself and her smoothie husband Stewart (Mike Colter) as the next coming of Oprah, Martha Stewart, and that “Fixer Upper” couple combined. Ryan and Stewart are well on their way to a lucrative new contract with Wal-Mart, but first she needs to deliver a massive keynote speech at Essence Fest — the perfect opportunity to reunite her girls for a weekend of fun and support. What could possibly go wrong?
Dina (Haddish) is the live wire, first introduced by way of a dizzying scene in which she’s fired, rejects her dismissal, and makes it clear that she may well be the world’s worst employee in the process. Lisa (Pinkett Smith) is the beleaguered mom, freshly divorced and ruthlessly dedicated to her kids, who desperately needs a vacation to shake her up. Like Ryan, Queen Latifah’s Sasha is also in the public eye, thanks to her popular gossip blog, which might not be nearly as profitable as her affluent lifestyle lets on. From the jump, fissures between the ladies are obvious — it’s not just busy lifestyles keeping them apart — and “Girls Trip” easily leans into emotional beats while also piling on the humor.
Haddish’s zippy charisma sets the tone early, zinging between bouts of physical comedy (no one lunges at a co-star with as much pizzazz as Haddish) and wonderfully inappropriate one-liners that are as shocking as they are masterfully delivered. Later in the film, Haddish serves up what will likely become contemporary cinema’s best example of how to use fruit to simulate sex acts (sorry, “American Pie”), a sequence so deliciously raunchy that it’s worth the price of admission alone.
But Dina, for all her big talk and hilarious faults, is also an exceedingly loyal friend, and that will come in handy when “Girls Trip” doubles down on the very big secret at its center. It’s that secret that is the source of much of the film’s drama, and while it makes for a bit of an overstuffed feature (few comedies demand running times that push past two hours, including this one), it’s a narrative device that drives the film forward into deeper waters than pure laughs could provide.
But those pure laughs are more than enough to sustain the summer’s best comedy so far, as “Girls Trip” nails laugh after laugh even amidst — and oftentimes because of — dramatic issues that wouldn’t be out of place in a Lifetime movie. As the ladies make their way through all the glory Essence Fest has to offer, including run-ins with a slew of big talents in a seemingly never-ending parade of cameos (Diddy makes off with the best one, predictably bolstered by Haddish’s involvement) and at least one wildly ill-inconceived adventure fueled by absinthe, “Girls Trip” keeps the momentum whirling ever onward into the next big comedic set piece. That it all ends with a heartwarming reveal doesn’t dilute its more raucous sensibilities; it only makes it more clear why Lee and his ladies should think about turning this “Girls Trip” into a franchise that can spawn more uproarious vacations.
“Girls Trip” will be released in theaters nationwide on Friday, July 21.