Thursday, July 20, 2017

'Girls Trip' offers major laughs

A raunchy comedy about four women who reunite in New Orleans.
Malcolm D. Lee, who directed the Best Man movies and Barbershop: the Next Cut, knows how to make crowd-pleasing movies -- and that's a good thing.

Girls Trip, a raunchy comedy based on the enduring bonds of black sisterhood, is Lee's latest foray into the lives of 40something black people who -- for the most part -- are leading successful lives.

In this case, four women -- former college roommates -- spend a reunion weekend in New Orleans. But where movies such as the recent -- and deeply abysmal -- Rough Night, strained to push women into the Bachelor Party/Bridesmaids oeuvre, Girls Trip leaps in with remarkable aplomb.

Lee builds the movie around big comedy scenes of the kind that make you laugh in spite of yourself. One involves torrential urination and the other, a grapefruit. No fair describing either, but you should know that they're not for those who shy away from R-rated comedy.

In addition to some funny writing (intermittent, I admit), the movie features four actresses who create appealing characters: Regina Hall, Jada Pinkett Smith, Queen Latifah and Tiffany Haddish. Haddish portrays a firecracker of a woman whose profane expressions and attitude qualify as one of summer's better special effects.

The story revolves around Hall's character. Hall's Ryan is a best-selling author who espouses a you-can-have-it-all philosophy that has great appeal among women. She's married to a former NFL star (Mike Colter). Billed as an ideal couple, the two are on the verge of signing a lucrative TV contract, thanks to the efforts of Ryan's white agent (Kate Walsh).

Hall's Ryan travels to New Orleans to give the keynote speech at Essence Fest, a gathering for black women. She invites her former college pals along. They call themselves "The Flossy Posse."

Queen Latifah portrays Sasha, a journalist who has been reduced to running a celebrity gossip blog. Pinkett Smith portrays a divorced nurse and mother of two, a woman poised to reveal her wild side, and Haddish appears as the loyal member of the group, a woman whose irrepressible energy seems boundless and who's not afraid to unleash a powerful punch or get everyone drunk on absinthe.

At one point, the women drink too much absinthe and hallucinate, an occasion for Lee to bring ridiculous freshness to what could have been a giant misstep.

The absinthe symbolizes the women's goal. They're supposed to let loose, but a bit of harsh reality stands in their way. As it turns out, Ryan's life is far from perfect. Her husband philanders and his current partner (Deborah Ayorinde) happens to be in New Orleans.

To further complicate the proceedings, Ryan runs into a former classmate with whom she obviously shares an unkindly romantic spark (Larenz Tate).

As for Pinkett-Smith's Lisa, she's contending with a young man (Kofi Siriboe) with a very large ... well .... you know.

As is the case with most raunchy comedies, Lee's -- co-written by Kenya Barris and Tracy Oliver -- is not without sentiment nor can it resist a bit of morale-boosting cheerleading for female empowerment. Oh well, those are standard ingredients in this kind of fare, as well.

All this is bolstered by brief appearances from Common, Diddy, Mike Epps and more.

Raunchy comedies aren't everyone's favorite, but for those who like them, Girls Trip will do quite nicely. It may even turn out to be one of summer's few real surprises.

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