Best Films of Summer '17: 'Girls Trip'
Depending upon your so-called content universe—the self selecting ecosystem of brands and demographics that define you as a consumer—you might be skeptical of a film whose previews boast pee jokes and celebrity cameos as perhaps the best cinematic remedy from everything to Sheryl Sandberg-feminism to the recent tragedy in Charlottesville. Yet Girls Trip, directed by Malcolm D. Lee (Roll Bounce, Soul Men), has beaten the odds, not only by grossing over $114 million in what has otherwise been a dismal summer at the box office, but also in its grand slam execution of its comedic and moral scope.
Girls Trip does not purport itself to be a heavy political movie or a firm moral compass for navigating 21st Century life, but by simply being funny and celebrating Black Excellence, the women of color-led rom-com effectively addresses tricky and nuanced issues that are not necessarily new, but have morphed into harder to crack shapes with the ubiquity of technology.
While the central conflict of the film centers around the self proclaimed “You Can Have It All” author and powerhouse feminist icon Ryan Pierce, played by Regina Hall. The background given for Pierce makes one think of a younger Opera, but with a more diversified portfolio of talents and a former NFL running back husband. Ultimately, the infidelity of and positive-sum business relationship with that husband (Mike Colter) comes to form a wedge not only in the marriage, but between Ryan and her crew from college as well.
That crew, composed of excellent complimentary performances by Queen Latifah (Sasha, a celebrity gossip blogger), Jada Pinkett Smith (Lisa, a single mom with motherly instincts turned up to 11), and breakout comic Tiffany Haddish (Dina, profession in limbo), firmly holds the best interests of their dear Ryan at heart while her agent and husband have different and far greater financial incentives that affect theirs. Sasha holds a justified dose of skepticism and even resentment against Ryan after the duo had initially agreed to leave their flourishing careers to form “the Black Huffington Post.” Yet Ryan ended up leaving Sasha high and dry, relegating her from the New York Times to B-rate celebrity gossip.
On its own, this would have been a solid, if not morose, storyline for a film with extraordinarily strong female leads. The question of whether working women can in fact “have it all” when having to abide by double standards and work around wannabe-gigolo husbands is something important to wrestle with while laughing. Yet the rambunctious performance of Haddish and the reserved, motherly love of Pinkett Smith create more room for questions of feminism and modern commerce to be grappled with further. Lisa’s status as a single mom and Dina’s desire to just have fun without any repercussions enrich the ensemble performance and also become important in how both characters are resoundingly unapologetic. Closer to the lime light, Ryan and Sasha have to navigate often conflicting standards for black women in popular culture, and ultimately, they have to confront a broader problem of whether their business dealings are compatible with who they really are.
If any of this sounds like it could work in a novel or think piece, it very well could, but instead, Lee couches it in pee jokes, castration humor, and an unapologetic celebration of Black Excellence in New Orleans with celebrity cameos up the wazoo. All of it works together, and the message of the movie—which requires copious spoilers but can be surmised between these lines—might not be as effective without the outlandish humor. Beyond the normal Odyssey of the sister comedy, Girls Trip takes a successful swing at the status quo to show that, ultimately, a little levity can go a long way.