This film was hugely successful in the United States when released. It is very American. And the focus is African-American. It is difficult to say whether it travels well internationally although it was highly promoted.
It is an obvious statement to make: this is a film about women behaving badly. But, the bad behaviour is meant to be not only funny but highly entertaining with the premise that “anything goes”. And it does. One of the questions raised by women in the audience is how much this film actually demeans women by presenting them in this light and as the equal of men behaving badly.
The premise is reasonable enough. Four women have a long history of friendship, singing in the 1990s, the Flossy Posse. As time has passed, there has been distance and some hostility between some of the group. When one of them, Ryan (Regina Hall) becomes highly successful, with books saying you can have it all, with television interviews with her husband and their being presented as a wonderful celebrity couple, the group gets together again with a promotion trip to New Orleans.
So far, so ordinary. However, one of the group, Dina (a hyper kinetic and no-holds-barred, Tiffany Haddish) sets off a blustering, boisterous tone. Jada Pinkett as Lisa (one wonders what her husband Will Smith thought of the script) is married, and a mother, more reserved and cautious though the screenplay allows her to throw caution to the winds fairly quickly and, at moments, she outdoes Dina. Then there is Sasha, played by Queen Latifah, initially a journalist but currently managing a scandal mongering blog, compromising photos of celebrities, which has caused something of a rift between her and Ryan.
And, behind the scenes, Ryan’s husband is two-timing her with an ambitious femme fatale – but, in the wings, there is a bass player who has always been devoted to her.
So, it is not so much the plot but how the plot is handled. First of all, it is very much a film for Extroverts Anonymous. Introverts in the audience may well be quickly exhausted by the loudness, the brightness, and the excessiveness of all that is going on. Actually, there is a whole lot of screeching going on. Girls together, out on the town, spiked drinks and hallucinations, donning weakness and causing cat fights, ogling the men…
Now, in recent decades, American comedies especially, have been trying to outdo each other in breaking the boundaries of good taste – and certainly succeeding in breaking more and more boundaries as time goes on. This is especially the case with sex and sexuality. In the past commentators mentioned innuendo. Innuendo is often rare is in this film – it is all, one might say, outnuendo, which enables a certain blatancy. It is upfront and frequently in your face. How funny is it? Or is the audience being forced to laugh because this is the in thing and expected? A favourable Melbourne review (four stars out of five) praised its inventive sex talk and joyful vulgarity.
The other aspect of this kind of American film, especially those made in the last decade by producer Jay Apatow, is what might be called the Jay Apatow-syndrome, indulge the audience in all kinds of raucous and crass comedy and, in Girls Trip, gross and gross-out sex, bodily function sequences but, by the end, a return to some kind of moral stances, speeches about being honest, sympathetic glances of for-the-moment repentant faces and some resolution to return to, at least, some moral decencies. Except in this one, after all the humble breast-striking, the Flossy Posse women are all joking in bed, smoking and passing pot to one another.
It is something of a surprise to see how many prominent African-American personalities have cameos as themselves, frequently in singing roles, including Common, Sean Diddy Combs, Faith Evans, author Terry McMillan, Morris Chestnut, Mike Epps, Mariah Carey and director, Ava Du Vernay.
When asked by a fellow reviewer to encapsulate in one word the experience of watching Girls Trip, the word was “excruciating”. And that is from an introvert.
Peter Malone MSC is an Associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting.
Review by the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting