PLOT Four old college friends reunite for a vacation in New Orleans.
CAST Regina Hall, Queen Latifah, Tiffany Haddish, Jada Pinkett Smith
RATED R (crude humor, sexuality, language)
BOTTOM LINE “The Hangover” goes female and African-American — and finds a heart, too.
“I am beautiful. I am strong,” says Ryan Pierce (Regina Hall), a wealthy and famous businesswoman in Malcolm D. Lee’s “Girls Trip.” Ryan may be “the second coming of Oprah,” but she doesn’t roar this mantra of empowerment. She whispers it to herself, in tears, as her seemingly perfect marriage heads toward collapse.
That isn’t a moment you often find in a comedy about raunchy sex, barroom brawls and hallucinogens, but “Girls Trip” has a sincerity and vulnerability that’s missing from most R-rated comedies (particularly “The Hangover,” an obvious inspiration). Along with the surprisingly sweet “Bad Moms,” from last year, “Girls Trip” could help push forward a genre that began with “Bridesmaids” in 2011: the gross-out female comedy with a heart.
“Girls Trip” doesn’t have the most original storyline — four college friends reunite after 25 years to attend New Orleans’ Essence Festival. The movie’s selling points are its likable characters and the African-American actresses — ranging from solid to stellar — who play them. Jada Pinkett Smith has some fine moments as a mother of two who rediscovers her inner party animal; Queen Latifah, warm as always, is Sasha, a once-promising journalist now peddling celebrity gossip online; Tiffany Haddish plays the oversexed, underinhibited Dina.
Producer Will Packer, who helped make a movie star out of Kevin Hart with “Think Like a Man” (2012), may have just done the same for Haddish. A television veteran with mostly smaller roles to her credit, Haddish isn’t just a standout, she’s the movie’s comedic heart and vulnerable soul. Thanks to a hilarious scene involving a banana and a freshly cut grapefruit, Haddish seems destined to become next week’s meme, but her acting skills, evident in a tender scene with Pinkett Smith, suggest a longer stay in the public eye.
“Girls Trip” is fairly formulaic, and some of its cruder jokes seem contrived to reach that R rating. Still, we mostly laugh with these characters, not just at them. Color and gender aside, that’s the mark of success for any comedy.