Tiffany Haddish Is a Shining Star Stuck Playing Second Fiddle to Less-Funny Men

In "Night School" and "The Oath," our favorite fireball plays the cool straight woman, but what Haddish says she really wants is to be Wonder Woman's sister.
Tiffany Haddish Night School
Tiffany Haddish
Stephen Lovekin/Variety/REX/Shutterstock

“There she is!,” Maya Rudolph practically squealed with glee when Tiffany Haddish began to break it down at the 2018 Academy Awards in March. Outside of Frances McDormand’s impassioned “inclusion rider” speech, it was the highlight of the night, prompting many to imagine a Rudolph/Haddish buddy comedy, not the least of which included Paul Thomas Anderson. “That’s a combustible combination, the two of them,” Anderson told the L.A. Times at the time, confirming he and Haddish had been talking about working together. “That’s what you dream of as a director.”

“I haven’t talked to him in a while, I’ve been busy,” Haddish told IndieWire when asked about the status of the Anderson project. “I’m going to call him tonight. Just because you said that, I’m going to call him right when we finish.”

She needs to make that call; we need her to make that call. Haddish was on her way to the premiere of her new film, “The Oath,” a clunky political comedy written and directed by Ike Barinholtz, best known for his work on “The Mindy Project.” Haddish plays supportive wife Kai to Barinholtz’s Chris, a broad caricature of a left-leaning news junkie. A consummate scene-stealer, Haddish manages to eke out a few laughs from a slew of disappointed-wife routines. (There’s a lot of: “Can I talk to you in the other room for a second?”)

The Oath Tiffany Haddish Ike Barinholtz
“The Oath”Roadside

“The Oath” sets up an alternate dystopian reality (just close enough to our current one to be sufficiently unnerving), in which the government has demanded all citizens sign a loyalty oath to the White House. Produced by Sean McKittrick (“Get Out”), “The Oath” clearly reaches for dark satirical heights but ultimately falls far short.

As political tensions rise, the comedy devolves, and a Thanksgiving argument ends in a bloody hostage situation. Haddish needed no training for the bone-crunching fight scenes. “I didn’t have to do a lot of those, ’cause I already know how to fight,” she said. “You forgot where I’m from, huh? I’m from South Central, girl.”

When asked about her own feelings about the current president, Haddish demurred. “I don’t feel nothing. I was always taught that if you don’t have nothing nice to say, don’t say nothing at all,” she said, saying something. “His hair has been looking good lately though. I want to know who do his weave. His hair is popping.”

In the Kevin Hart vehicle “Night School,” opening this weekend, Haddish’s infectious magic is confined again to playing the straight woman. Haddish plays a teacher in “Night School,” another woman whose job it is to nag a man, boss him around, and ultimately — help him grow. Once again, Haddish in her brilliance, manages to squeeze a personality into tough-as-nails Carrie, and she finds a far better scene partner in Hart than in Barinholtz.

TIFFANY HADDISH stars in "Night School," the new comedy from director Malcolm D. Lee ("Girls Trip") that follows a group of misfits who are forced to attend adult classes in the longshot chance they’ll pass the GED exam.
“Night School”Photo Credit: Universal Pictures

Like Kai, Carrie is the sensible, responsible, mature one. The same could be said for her character in the Tracy Morgan TV series, “The Last O.G.,” though she is able to flex a bit more comedic muscle there. (“Nobody’s Fool,” a new Tyler Perry movie out in November, appears to play more to Haddish’s strengths.)

Her three biggest roles this year are nothing like her “Girls Trip” character, Dina, the wildly unhinged party girl who singlehandedly made that movie the highest-grossing comedy of 2017.  Of course, Haddish and her team may want to show dramatic range, to avoid getting pigeonholed into playing knockoff Dinas for the rest of her career. They seem to have over-corrected, but Haddish said she likes playing straight characters, and gave a broad description of the kinds of projects she turns down.

“I say ‘no’ to projects that don’t resonate with my soul. Don’t make me feel that good,” she said. “I still like projects that seem to have a lot of heart, and be funny if it’s going to be a comedy, and if it’s going to be a drama it needs to captivate me, and really just resonate with my spirit. Everything don’t do that.”

We may have to wait until next fall for the great dramatic ascendance of Tiffany Haddish, serious actress. In “The Kitchen,” she stars opposite Elisabeth Moss and Melissa McCarthy as three mob wives who take up their husbands’ places when they get locked up. Set in the 1970s and directed by “Straight Outta Compton” scribe Andrea Berloff, Haddish praised McCarthy as a “phenomenal actress,” adding “I can’t wait for the world to see it.”

As for the future, Haddish has a few ideas about the ideal project: “I would love to do Mystery Girl, or play Wonder Woman’s sister, ’cause she has a sister. In the 1978 issue of ‘Wonder Woman,’ she has a sister named Nubia. She has a black sister. Only person that could kill her. They don’t tell you that though, too much,” she said, adding: “Me and Gal Gadot. That would be sold out.”

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