Tuesday, 8 August 2017

Girls Trip (2017) (Review)


Comedy in 2017 has been completely dry; Baywatch was 'as funny as a beached whale' according to one critic, Snatched was entirely forgettable and The House crumbled down with disastrous reviews and a poor box office showing. Table 19 all but disappeared without a trace and Rough Night was delayed in the UK after its disappointing US reception. Other than The Big Sick (which is an all together different type of comedy in my eyes), we haven't had a breakout comedy smash since last year's Bad Moms.

And then, like a breath of fresh air in the cinematic landscape, Girls Trip rolled by.

The film follows the story of four lifelong friends rekindling their friendship with an overdue weekend getaway trip to New Orleans for the annual Essence Music Festival. Ryan (Regina Hall), Sasha (Queen Latifah), Lisa (Jada Pinkett Smith) and Dina (Tiffany Haddish) try to make the most of their rare trip and time together given their busy schedules - but when a picture sends one of their lives tumbling down, the role of sisterhood, friendship and unity has never been more important. As with most comedies, the premise acts only as a vehicle for a whole barrage of hilarity from our four leads and supporting cast - and they provide it in abundance.

Girls Trip has absolutely no right to be as flat-out hilarious as it is. It lacked originality, unfolding in the most predictable manner with little in the way of narrative surprise; it occasionally struggled with a tonal balance between the comedy and heavier, dramatic moments; and it was slightly on the bloated side. But when a film is this uproarious and riotous, executed with a determined focus on the laughs and providing its audience with the best time at the cinema, you can brush off those flaws and enjoy it for the wild ride it is.

Girls Trip is a laugh-a-minute and then some. You will be hard-pressed to find a period longer than that without, at the very least, registering a light chuckle - and most of the time it is full-on belly-laughs. Kenya Barris and Tracy Oliver's screenplay lays the foundations for the lead actresses to go to town with, providing them with a story of great scope and set pieces to work with. Be it a high-flying zip-wire, a motel room fresh out of CSI or that grapefruit moment, Girls Trip is unrelenting in its delight and amusement: even when derivative of other female-led comedies, it finds a way to keep you invested, engaged and crying with laughter.

Of course, this wouldn't be possible without its game cast, and all four members of the 'Flossy Posse' throw themselves into their roles without hesitation. It is ever-refreshing to see smart, complex black female characters in cinema (and particularly comedy, where they are often relegated to purely 'for the laughs' individuals), with Girls Trip giving us four of them in one package. Regina Hall's Ryan is a successful business-type woman, crafting her empire within an inch of its life. While probably the least flexible when it comes to the laughs, she is required to carry a substantial amount of the film's emotion and she handles it superbly - ending with a rousing speech on the importance of unity and friendship, she strikes the balance between the laughs and the drama, upholding the weigh of the film with ease, sophistication and grace.

Queen Latifah's Sasha is seen as a sell-out by the other girls, now using her journalism degree for petty celebrity gossip; the bitterness between Sasha and Ryan, in particular, provides the film's central conflict that threatens to reach a climax at varying points throughout the film. Similar to Hall, Latifah is required to deliver some of the heavier moment of the piece and complete succeeds in balancing the two tones, even when the general film splutters a little on this front. Jada Pinkett Smith proved to be quite the delight as Lisa, the highly-strung, sex-less single mother of two that every comedy has. Here though, thanks to Pinkett Smith, she is developed as a character and human rather than a plot device, joyously demonstrating her uptight characters' facade finally breaking away across her weekend with the girls. Eventually responsible for one of the most scandalous laughs, Pinkett Smith is less guarded than expected and confirms that she is quite the comedy star.

And then we have Tiffany Haddish. Doing for Haddish what Bridesmaids did for Melissa McCarthy, she is a certified scene-stealer and the next big comedy breakthrough, no questions asked. Dealing with arguably the thinnest writing and weakest characterisation of the four leads, her natural talent and comedic excellence allows her to sail through the film, stealing every scene along the way. Be it her hilarious high-wire tricks or grapefruit antics, she throws everything at the wall with the performance and is bound to see the roles roll in from it. She possesses no such thing as nuance but benefits from how outlandish and how far she is willing to push it.

The benefit of seeing a comedy in a packed, sold-out screening means you get a sense of which jokes hit and which jokes miss, outside the perimeters of your own interests and taste when it comes to the most divisive genre - and I can say, with complete confidence and conviction, that almost every joke obliterated the target, sending audiences into a comedic frenzy of excitement and joy. People were screaming, stamping and on their feet with the joy over this film, a crowd-pleasing experience unmatched in cinema this year. In fact, the last time a cinema screening was even half as enthusiastic as this was for Hidden Figures and Get Out. Take from that what you will. 

Malcom D. Lee understands that less is more and allows the cast to do the heavy-lifting. There are no special technical flourishes or directing trickery to distract from the fun the ladies are having, which makes it easier to appreciate the sheer glee of friends having together. He could have done with trimming a little from the second/third act to tighten it up, but pushing it over two hours does not hamper the film too much. I also really missed a gag reel at the end - you can see how much fun the cast are having and it would have been a treat to see one play over the credits. As you can tell though, these are very minor issues and it does not detract from the brilliant time you have from Girls Trip's first frame until its last.

Along with The Big Sick, Girls Trip puts an end to the awful comedy drought we have experienced lately. What it lacks in originality and surprise it makes up for by its fast-rate laughs and the generally wild time it offers cinemagoers. It puts the likes of Baywatch, Snatched and The House to shame, eagerly demonstrating just how a comedy should operate, while at the same time making some sharp comments on the importance of (black, in particular) womanhood, friendship and independence, all wrapped up in a cinematic experience as wild and exciting as Dina's demonstrations.

(8/10) 

Summary: Girls Trip is downright hilarious and very probably the best surprise of the summer; while it is most certainly a laugh-a-minute and then some, it finds time to tell a surprisingly moving story about friendship and sisterhood, helmed by four of the most talented comedians in the industry today. An absolute comedic triumph.

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