Take a peek at any of the trailers or posters for ‘Girls Trip’ and you’ll think you’re being sold a wacky R-rated “girls behaving badly” comedy not unlike the movie ‘Rough Night’ that hit screens just a few weeks ago. For the most part, you’d be right. However, director Malcolm D. Lee and his team of screenwriters also have more serious ambitions.
These sorts of movies almost always have some sort of life lesson arc for the protagonists to undercut all the filth and partying, but ‘Girls Trip’ really leans into the drama in ways that the film never earns and ultimately spoils the whole party.
Much like ‘Rough Night’ (a film so similar you can’t help but compare the two), this is a tale of former college friends reunited after decades of various levels of romantic and professional success. In different ways, they all worry that they’ve lost a little something on the path to becoming grown-ups (especially friendship…. awwwwwwww!). Ryan (Regina Hall) is the lead, an Oprah-esque self-help guru whose latest book has a title weighed down by so much baggage that you can practically hear the third act twist calling: ‘You Can Have It All’. Sasha (Queen Latifah) was a once serious journalist who now runs a gossip blog after a business fallout with Ryan. Dina (Tiffany Haddish) is an undistinguished office worker with oh-so-much attitude. Lisa (Jada Pickett Smith) is the requisite uptight single mom certain to ruin all the fun – and possibly go crazy in a surprise twist! They used to be called the Flossy Posse back in their wild days. Now, when Ryan comes to New Orleans with a seemingly perfect husband on her coattails, the girls reunite and hope to get up to youthful trouble as adults. Obviously, that’s a recipe for nutty times, long delayed fights, and maybe even some personal growth.
You know the routine. ‘Girls Trip’ is yet another attempt to cash in on the “old friends partying” shenanigans that made ‘The Hangover’ so successful, along with some of that girl power comedy from ‘Bridesmaids’. The difference (aside from the race angle) is that Lee’s film also has a sweet tooth for sentimentality and goes hard for the feels between the filth. It starts right up front with a weepy narration about the distance that can grow between friends, and pops up constantly after that anytime things get too silly. While there’s nothing wrong with a little light drama within even the nuttiest of comedies, ‘Girls Trip’ comes off as far too tonally confused and muddy. Comedic momentum is endlessly undercut by schmaltz and honest emotions are frequently spoiled by the next drunken joke. It’s an awkward ride.
The cast is strong, which helps. Haddish has a knack for spitting out spiky dialogue with playful pizzazz. Latifah’s considerable comedic talents elevate sequences such as an absinthe-inspired make-out session with a lamp. Pickett Smith commits to her silly role with enough sincerity to elevate a collection of clichés pretending to be a character. Cameo players steal scenes as required. Even Hall lends a certain amount of credibility to the boring straight woman anchor part. The movie has some amusing moments of empowerment within the drunken romp. Lee proves to know his way around a gross-out gag and the entire cast is game. Unfortunately, all of the shock comedy fun is endlessly dragged down by the inspirational sequences that rarely register and are always predictable.
‘Girls Night’ isn’t a disaster, but it’s a little sloppy and tonally confused. Had the screenplay focused on the friendship dramedy, the cast likely could have pulled off gentle melodrama. If this was a full-on filthy romp, everyone involved could have delivered one sick joke after another. But crammed together along with awkward stabs at empowerment and needless cameos, the varying sequences just never merge into a satisfying whole. It ends up feeling like two totally different scripts with a shared concept crammed together without any consistency. Something simple was over-thought to death in the writing stage and the talented cast can’t quite salvage it no matter how hard they try. The movie isn’t without its moments and it’s certainly nice to see a big broad comedy exclusively starring women of color getting such a wide release. It’s just too bad that it had to be this movie that got that reach and attention.