Malcolm D. Lee’s GIRLS TRIP is one of my favorite movies of all time. I could watch it on an endless loop and still never get tired of it. Four college best friends go to the Essence Music Festival in New Orleans and share memories that will last a lifetime? I’m there in a heartbeat. I beg readers not to write it off as simply a raunchy “girls gone wild” buddy comedy (like Bridesmaids), especially those who usually go for more serious fare. GIRLS TRIP is one of the most genuine depictions of female friendship I’ve seen in a film, and that alone makes it noteworthy. More than that, GIRLS TRIP challenges how we’ve been conditioned to view Black womanhood, and womanhood in general, onscreen. It offers a refreshing alternative, one that Susan Wloszcyna aptly dubs “cruelty-free.” Plus, it’s an absolute blast to watch. And that’s got to be worth something.
GIRLS TRIP introduces us to a dynamic group of four women reuniting for the first time in five years. There’s Ryan Pierce (Regina Hall), a bestselling author and lifestyle guru who claims to “have it all” (don’t worry, she abandons this creed eventually). She’s joined by Sasha (Queen Latifa), an ex-journalist who now runs a struggling gossip website; Lisa, a divorced mother of two looking to let loose; and Dina, the impulsive party animal. In reconnecting, it is revealed that Ryan’s career and marriage (which are unfortunately intertwined) are not as perfect as they seem, and the Flossy Posse must help Ryan find the courage to be honest with herself and her audience.
This film offers an excellent, yet tragically rare, depiction of joyful Black women with agency. We all know that Hollywood has a diversity problem, and relatively few movies feature Black actors in major roles or tell Black stories. Of those that do, many of them involve the brutalization or subservience of black people, such as slavery, apartheid, or segregation. Black women, especially, are often portrayed as victims at the mercy of others. Of course, those movies have a place, and those stories must be told. But it is also important to remember that Black women can be (and deserve to be) carefree and even a little silly sometimes. GIRLS TRIP gets this exactly right. Writer Tracy Oliver remarked to The Hollywood Reporter that she wanted to break down the barriers of respectability politics and portray “black women being carefree and having fun just like everybody else … It doesn’t have to always be so serious. We can just relax and like hang out and have a good time too.” And the silliness never backslides into making the characters a laughingstock, because each woman is a grounded, fully fleshed out character that we can’t help but sympathize with. We’re laughing with them, not at them.
I also love the fact that respectability politics don’t get in the way of Ryan’s career success. Liz, Ryan’s agent, bends over backwards the entire weekend to convince Bethany, an older White woman who is the representative of Best Mart, to recruit Ryan and Stewart to be spokespeople for her store chain, seemingly as the pinnacles of domesticity and marital bliss. There is constant tension between Ryan’s desire to let loose with the Flossy Posse and her need to be quiet and “respectable” for Bethany. This tension is especially strong within the context of Essence Fest, a celebration of Black women. Eventually, Ryan does not let her fear of Bethany’s rejection stop her from admitting her imperfections and connecting with her friends and the Black women in her audience.
More broadly, GIRLS TRIP shows us how powerful the unity of women can be, even overcoming the pressures of the patriarchy that divide women and turn them against each other. Stewart (and to a lesser extent, Ryan’s agent) manipulates Ryan into thinking that the only way she can be successful is with him by her side. This is how he gets Ryan to stay with him for much of the movie, even though he is having a blatant affair with Simone, a young Instagram model. Ryan can’t confide in anyone, much less the Flossy Posse, about her marital issues because that would involve admitting her life is not perfect and that she does not, in fact, “have it all.” Ryan’s reluctance to admit these problems to her friends drives a wedge between them and is suggested to be one of the causes of their five-year separation from each other. By making the appearance of perfection the paragon, and not vulnerability, Stewart isolates Ryan from the Flossy Posse, because only they could ever give her the strength to escape Stewart’s grasp.
Finally, GIRLS TRIP fights against the narrative that the prime of a woman’s life is in her youth. The four main characters of the film are all in their 30s and 40s, and are still finding new love and career success. I admire how the film portrays female sexual desire for this age group, especially for Lisa and Ryan. They seek more out of their sexual lives than they are currently getting, and their pursuit of this fulfillment is completely compatible with their being mothers (Lisa) and advancing their careers (Ryan). Like real-life women, they want more than one thing out of life, and those things aren’t all mutually exclusive. As for Sasha and Dina, they are both single, childless women, and this is never brought up as an issue or personal shortcoming. In fact, it’s never even brought up at all! All of the life paths that the Flossy Posse have chosen are treated as equally valid.
In short, this film is a fun and feminist success and proves how strong, nontoxic female friendships can improve every aspect of one’s life. Though it tackles real issues for women, and especially Black women, this light-hearted movie is sure to give you at least two hours and two minutes of positivity in this negative time.
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