REVIEW: 'Girls Trip' is 2017's sleeper summer jam

Midway through Girls Trip, a group of reunited lifelong friends - referred to as the ‘Flossy Posse’ - stand in the hallway of Maison, a dance club located on Frenchmen Street in New Orleans. Reinvigorated by adrenaline - and with an assist from absinthe - the group prepares for a dance-off with a younger, nastier set of women, the kinds that flaunt themselves on Instagram. The song playing is Missy Elliot - “She’s a Bitch.”

Two members of the clique leave the frame, with one telling the girls it’s time to “set it off.” The remaining onscreen friends (Jada Pinkett Smith, Queen Latifah) look at each other with a cool, knowing glance - finally, their put-upon, worried characters are living in the moment. Wearing hilarious, colorful wigs, it’s also a clever call-out to the stone cold Set It Off, which starred Pinkett Smith and Latifah as bank robbers over twenty years ago.

Like the characters rediscovering their worth, the film feels liberated in this brief throwaway. It’s thoughtful about its story of friendship, and does not pull any punches. The question is: is a film that’s as joyful and rowdy as Girls Trip able to find an audience in 2017?

Let’s step back. It’s been several years since the Flossy Posse’s unleashed itself on the world. Real life has gotten in the way. Ryan (Regina Hall) is the “second coming of Oprah,” a self-help author on the verge of a TV deal with her scheming husband, who appears modeled on Michael Strahan. She’s in New Orleans for the Essence Music Festival to close the deal, choosing that exact weekend to hang out with her estranged friends. Latifah is Sasha, a celebrity blogger. Pinkett Smith is the mousey mother of two, a reformed party girl.

And scene stealer Tiffany Haddish is Dina, the group’s id. She’s unencumbered, profane. Haddish brings a wild energy that’s made stars out of comic relief in similar, ahem, whiter films: Melissa McCarthy (Bridesmaids), Zach Galifianakis (The Hangover), etc.

In that vein, Girls Trip should be a curious experiment in the modern summer box office landscape, filled with superheroes and wimpy teens battling YA adventures. If nothing else, this silly comedy is a crowdpleaser, with Dina performing a graphic act known as “grapefruiting.” Two characters urinate over a crowd, in a possible rebuttal to Bridesmaid’s famed public defecation scene, or Hall’s no-holds-barred work in the Scary Movie franchise.

Except this film, the latest offering from Will Packer Productions, stars middle-aged black women, not exactly the preferred bracket for teenage boys. Like its festival setting, Girls Trip is a celebration of “black womanhood in all its glorious forms.” And it plays like a love letter/fairytale for people who came of age during the 90s. Diddy and Ma$e bring Dina onstage at the festival to serenade her with “Feel So Good” (after she flashes them.) New Edition shows up to perform; so does Mariah Carey and Faith Hill.

It’s got the temperament of a hit. (Note: the film recently debuted at #2 at the domestic box office with a $30 million opening.)

Buoyed by a heartfelt, yet gag-rich script by South Park writer Erica Rivinoja, and rewritten by Kenya Barris and Tracy Oliver, director Malcolm Lee lets his cast pursue gross out highs rarely seen in modern, big American comedies. This is the sort of film that’s enhanced by seeing it with a large crowd. Don’t let this be another Bachelorette, which felt doomed to VOD for the sin of letting its female characters play nasty, and occasionally act human, only to find an audience later on.

The Flossy Posse lives on.

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