Girls Trip and its celebration of female star power

From left are Queen Latifah, Regina Hall, Jada Pinkett-Smith and Tiffany Haddish in Girls Trip.

The very last moment we see the main characters in “Girls Trip” has been playing on a loop in my brain since I saw it. There’s a brief sequence where the four main actresses lead a parade, dancing down the streets of New Orleans as trumpets blast out joyfully. The brief moment flirts with aspects of meta-cinema; it could be part of the narrative, or it could just be an outtake where the actresses (and not their characters) enjoy the propulsive rhythms of New Orleans. The ambiguity comes because there is no dialogue, no moment of Queen Latifah’s sincere line-deliveries or Tiffany Haddish pushing a joke to its brink. All we have is these four woman, their colourful costumes and their beatific smiles. Just having fun. And I keep coming back to it as the best representation of what makes “Girls Trip” worth it.

There are many things about “Girls Trip” that stand out, but it bears consideration that when the heavy laughter plateaus the movie leaves us with certainty of its actresses as stars, while story elements are incidental. When I say that the plot of “Girls Trip” is negligible and the story is incidental to the power of the women at its centre, that’s not ignoring the value of the script and its story. Director Malcolm D. Lee has an excellent history of putting black friendship on display (best done on his first film, “The Best Man”). Writers Erica Rivinoja, Kenya Barris and Tracy Oliver have crafted a deliberately slender but effective story that hits familiar beats. The quartet of female friends exorcising their history is reminiscent of much successful television fare–“Sex and the City,” “The Golden Girls,” and “Girlfriends.” However, this tale of women banding together in the wake of male infidelity is an old one on the big screen.

An early forerunner is the 1939 Hollywood Golden Age comedy, “The Women,” which centres on a group of friends avenging their wronged friend. And for all its raunchy comedy, the emergence of “Girls Trip” as a natural descendent of that Hollywood comedy is potent. The era when “The Women” premiered was a time when the Hollywood Star was paramount. The Golden of Age of Hollywood had some films that subsisted purely on the star power of the lead. It’s not that their stories were flimsy but specific films in the era hinged on whether Katharine Hepburn’s smile could charm us, whether Cary Grant’s charm could woo us, or whether Judy Garland’s vibrato could beguile us.

Regina Hall, Queen Latifah, Jada Pinkett-Smith and Tiffany Haddish might not immediately bring that quality to mind – and to be fair, Haddish is enjoying a call to fame indicative of her “newness” to mainstream audiences at 37. But Hall, Pinkett-Smith, and especially Queen Latifah at 45, 46, 47, respectively, are women who have given decades to entertainment. “Girls Trip” acknowledges their history (a cheeky allusion to “Set It Off” where Latifah and Pinkett last acted together is hilariously placed), while putting their star personas front and centre. “Girls Trip” shows that these women are worthy of star status while making for the power of female friendships. The film, in both explicit and implicit ways, celebrates women as partners and not competitors.

Haddish as the most eccentric of the group has gotten plaudits, largely, I suspect, because of audience’s lack of familiarity with her as well as the provocative nature of her role but “Girls Trip” offers each of the four women at its centre a chance to shine. It’s difficult to single out one as best, even as I’m partial to Latifah’s ability to move from farce to drama in key moments, selling the admittedly rocky resolution of the film. When the film jokes that we know that Pinkett-Smith’s character Lisa has a history of being the party girl, it’s also a joke for those who are familiar with her early work.

And it’s that awareness of star power amidst camaraderie that makes this particular “Trip” land effectively. It’s an ingredient that made the starkly different “Big Little Lies” work so well on television earlier this year–female connections. Their tones and focus are starkly removed but that believability of women existing in the same space working towards celebrating each other emphasises the sweet charm of “Girls Trip.”

There are issues that momentarily stall it. The film sometimes doesn’t know when to end a joke; the running time is a bit too long, especially when some sequences seem a bit too peripheral; the romance aspect of the film feels more unnecessary than I’d like; and the movie title is missing a much needed apostrophe (unless the Trip in the title is a verb and the movie is a confession that girls be trippin’). But, “Girls Trip” sticks its landing.  The film’s own occasional inability to let go of its romantic storyline plays to another meta-moment, too. Regina Hall’s businesswoman Ryan uses a branding opportunity with her husband in New Orleans as an opportunity to reunite her group of friends, almost as if she was doubtful of inviting them without a backup reason. Eventually, Ryan and the film come to learn that there need not be another reason for inviting her friends. A chance to have these women together is reason enough to take a trip. Romantic entanglements are merely subsidiary. It shouldn’t feel revolutionary, especially when it’s not a niche thought. You need not be one of the “girls” or Black to understand what the film is arguing for. Allow me some space to dance and strut, “Girls Trip” confidently and deftly argues. And when its resolution is a joyful crowd being led down the street by these women in wild abandon, who would dare say no to that?


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