Few would have had many hopes for Girls Trip (★★★, cert 15, 122 mins), a raucous saga of four black American pals cutting loose over one New Orleans weekend. Yet it’s become the wildcard in the summer movie season, having accrued double its $19m budget just 10 days after its US release.
In part, this is a matter of smart business: correcting a colour imbalance in that post-Bridesmaids run of women-gone-wildcomedies, Malcolm D Lee’s film spied a gap in a competitive market. It merits attention as a rare example of commercial cinema that has actively flourished for not being pushed towards teenage boys. My hunch – as a sometime teenage boy – is they wouldn’t be able to handle it anyway.
Granted, Girls Trip’s broads are drawn in very broad strokes. As author Ryan Pierce – whose invitation to the annual Essence Festival initiates this jaunt – Regina Hall is cast as another of romcomland’s conflicted career women; playing cashstrapped blogger Sasha, Queen Latifah has chiefly to resemble Queen Latifah. Comedian Tiffany Haddish, as spitfire Dina, fares better: she has an uproarious introduction scene, carrying on blindly unaware that she’s being fired. Jada Pinkett Smith (Menace II Society; The Nutty Professor) makes up the quartet as just-divorced single mom Lisa.
How to commend this oft-profane artefact to loyal Catholic Herald readers? Well, I could point out that the film’s sweetest scene finds our heroines concluding their first night’s carousing with bedside prayers. For all the rowdiness, Lee is still operating within that devoutly Christian lineage of black cinema. And something semi-miraculous does happen whenever these performers congregate: egging each other on while backing one another up, they convince both as old friends and women who feel they deserve better – which is the film’s subject, and its intended demographic.
At my packed public screening, the girls’ whoops and hollers – upon besting a love rival or catching some hunk’s eye – came to merge with those of the audience: it’s an empowerment party, and everybody’s invited.
It is rarely sophisticated, verging on outright clunking in its brand placement and issue-raising. Yet Lee’s big-hearted, laissez-faire handling keeps the pleasures coming, be they a brass band cover of Bill Withers’s Lovely Day or Haddish’s extraordinary laugh, which counts among the most suggestive ever preserved on celluloid. In its distaff casting, resolute indifference to the medium’s technical possibilities and equal determination to give cinemagoers a good time, here is the anti-Dunkirk: you absolutely need not see Girls Trip on an Imax screen, or in 70mm, but catch it on the right night, with the right crowd, and you’ll laugh, blush and never look at citrus fruit the same way again.
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