Friday 28 July 2017

"Girls Trip" (Catholic Herald 04/08/17)

Few would have had many hopes for Girls Trip (***, 15, 122 mins), a raucous saga of four African-American pals cutting loose over one New Orleans weekend. Yet it’s become the wildcard in the summer movie season, having already accrued double its $19m budget in just ten days on US release. In part, this is a matter of smart business: correcting a colour imbalance in that post-Bridesmaids run of women-gone-wild comedies, Malcolm D. Lee’s film spied a gap in a competitive market, and merits attention as a rare example of commercial cinema that has actively flourished for not being pushed towards teenage boys. My hunch – as a sometime teenage boy – is they wouldn’t be able to handle it anyway.

Granted, Girls Trip’s broads are drawn in very broad strokes. Ryan Pierce (Regina Hall), the author whose invite to the annual Essence Festival initiates this jaunt, is another of romcomland’s conflicted career women; playing cash-strapped blogger Sasha, Queen Latifah has chiefly to resemble Queen Latifah. Comedian Tiffany Haddish, as spitfire Dina, fares better: she has an uproarious introduction scene, failing to notice she’s being fired. Jada Pinkett Smith, however, is working against a character – just-divorced single mom Lisa – initially defined by the contents of her suitcase: thick socks, travel pillow, hand sanitiser. Given that her weekend involves naked kerbcrawlers and a strategic deployment of grapefruit halves, the last seems a wholly judicious pack.

How to commend this oft-profane artefact to loyal CH readers? Well, I could point to the film’s sweetest scene, which finds our heroines concluding their first night’s carousing with bedside prayers; for all the rowdiness, Lee’s still operating within that devoutly Christian lineage of black cinema. And something semi-miraculous does happen whenever these performers congregate: egging each other on while backing one another up, they convince both as old friends and women who feel they deserve better – the film’s subject, and its intended demographic. At my packed public screening, the girls’ whoops and hollers – upon besting a love rival or catching some hunk’s eye – came to merge with those of the audience: it’s an empowerment party, and everybody’s invited.

It’s rarely sophisticated, verging on outright clunking in its brand-placement and issue-raising. Yet Lee’s big-hearted, laissez-faire handling keeps the pleasures coming, whether a brass band cover of Bill Withers’ “Lovely Day” or Haddish’s extraordinary laugh, which counts among the most suggestive ever preserved on celluloid. In its distaff casting, resolute indifference to the medium’s technical possibilities and equal determination to give cinemagoers a good time, here is the anti-Dunkirk: you absolutely need not see Girls Trip on an IMAX screen, or in 70mm, but catch it on the right night, with the right crowd, and you’ll laugh, blush and never look at citrus fruit the same way again.

Girls Trip is now playing in cinemas nationwide.

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