“We haven’t hung in five years. This weekend is about us. We are here together. Today is the last day that we will ever be this young.”
In 2018, I hosted a Q&A with the talent for George Tillman Jr.’s “The Hate U Give” at the Riviera Theatre. One of the actors in the film was Regina Hall and she was seated right next to me. The film is intense, and we had an in-depth discussion. After it wrapped, I turned to Hall to declare my admiration for the “Flossy Posse.” Her eyes widened with incredulity. “You love ‘Girls Trip’?” she asked me. I went on to quote a few lines. “You can have it all!” I said, probably making a fool out of myself saying one of her character’s signature lines. I explained that I’ve seen it four times, and that it has become my go-to film when I need a good laugh. It’s not only one of the funniest, most outrageous films, but it handles complicated issues about balancing a professional career without sacrificing the things that matter to you, and the strength of having good friends who will have your back.
I have been a fan of Malcolm D. Lee for a while. He’s the director responsible for “The Best Man” (1999) who assembled a great group of Black actors and created a terrific movie that played like an African American version of “The Big Chill.” In 2013, he reunited his cast for a follow up, “The Best Man Holiday” that was even more commercially successful than the first. The third installment, “The Best Man Wedding” is currently in production. He is also at the helm of this summer’s eagerly awaited “Space Jam: A new Legacy.” He is a cousin of Spike Lee, who produced “The Best Man.” He has a great knack for finding a tone in his movies that can shift from hilariously slapstick to grounded and emotional in a moment. He makes finding that balance look easy, and makes some jaw-dropping comedic moments soar.
“Girls Trip” tells the story of four women who’ve been friends since 1982, the Flossy Posse, who have drifted apart because of careers and family. When Ryan (Regina Hall), a motivational speaker and author who is reaching Oprah-level popularity, is invited to deliver the keynote at the Essence Festival in New Orleans, she decides to reunite the group. It includes Sasha (Queen Latifah), who earlier aspired to be a journalist but finds herself in difficult financial circumstances while running a tabloid gossip column. It is the latter that has created some friction between her and Ryan.
We also meet Lisa Cooper (Jada Pinkett Smith) who is a wallflower and the OCD one of the group, a single mother who hasn’t had sex since her divorce. And then there’s the loose cannon and party animal, Dina, who used to work in an office but just got fired (although she refuses to acknowledge it) for harming a co-worker who ate her lunch.
The stakes are high because Ryan and her husband Stewart are being considered for a massive endorsement deal from the retail chain Best Mart. All eyes are on both of them during presentations at the Essence Festival. When the ladies arrive in the Big Easy, a photo of Stewart cheating on Ryan arrives in Sasha’s inbox. After Dina confronts Stewart with a broken bottle of wine, the Posse is turned away from their posh hotel accommodations. This will not deter them. It’s not long before the women get reacquainted with the wild behavior of their youth.
It is definitely a joy to watch these four let loose, with their drinking, dancing and partying. It’s absolutely contagious to watch them have fun. I was thinking how common it is to see male figures on screen acting without inhibitions. I think of John Belushi in “Animal House” and the gentleman of “The Hangover.” These women shed the constrictions of society as well as the expectations of their behavior in movies. And there are indeed some spit take moments. There’s a decision to make between waiting in the line to the bathroom or hopping onto a zip line across the balconies overlooking Bourbon Street, and another I can’t believe my eyes moment involving the explanation of what ‘just grapefruit him’ means At some point things get even crazier when they all partake in drinking 200 year old absinthe and hallucinations take over.
As the women find themselves in situations filled with debauchery, they start to reignite their friendship and their lost sisterhood. All the actors are fantastic and have terrific moments. They’re obviously having a great time with each other. Tiffany Haddish is the most valuable player as the wild card that is Dina. She channels Belushi, Zach Galifianakis and Melissa McCarthy.
It’s a laugh out loud romp, with a very big heart.
Dina: “Heavenly Father, I want to thank you for this day of life. My heart is so full of joy for these women right here. Lord, please make sure that Lisa don’t get a STD and that nobody has kidney failure, because we’re fittin’ to get messed up and let me get pregnant by somebody rich, that’s all I ask. Amen.”
Available to rent on YouTube, Google Play, Apple TV, Vudu, Redbox, DIRECTV, Alamo on Demand, Amazon Prime, iTunes, Microsoft, FandangoNOW and AMC Theatres on Demand.
Screenplay by Kenya Barris and Tracy Oliver
Story by Erica Rivinoja, Kenya Barris, Tracy Oliver
Directed by Malcolm D. Lee
Starring Regina Hall, Queen Latifah, Jada Pinkett Smith, Tiffany Haddish, Larenz Tate, Mike Colter and Kate Walsh
Director Malcolm D. Lee on Bringing “Girls Trip” to the Screen
“Soon after ‘Best Man Holiday’ came out, [Producer] Will Packer called me. We were trying to figure out a movie to do together and a way to work together,” says Malcolm D. Lee. He continues, “He called me and he pitched me the idea of women just like men going on a trip, behaving badly, getting away with it.” The Queens, New York-born 47-year-old filmmaker was excited at that idea. “I said yeah man, I’m a 100 percent in on that. That sounds dope.” Lee and Packer found their writers in Kenya Barris (“Black-ish”) and Tracy Oliver (“Survivor’s Remorse”). In addition to the notion of a female-centered road trip comedy, the film would have a unique, outside twist as well — all the hilarity and havoc would take place in the midst of the Essence Festival in New Orleans. Named after the black women-focused beauty and lifestyle publication, The Essence Festival is the largest annual festival that showcases the best of African-American popular culture. On the face of it, it was a herculean feat but Essence, Lee states, was supportive of the idea from the outset. Packer’s original idea became “Girls Trip,” starring Queen Latifah, Regina Hall, Jada Pinkett and Tiffany Haddish…
…Girls Trip was shot on location in New Orleans and on location at the Essence Festival, which brought with it a lot of logistical issues on top of all the normal movie shoot issues. Lee said, “Logistically, it was very tough. There were extras. It was a live event. People who recognized the stars were screaming for them and wanting to take selfies and get autographs and get hugs and all kinds of stuff.” He remembers with just a bit of astonishment that at certain points, it was a lot even for his usual unflappable persona. “I lost my cool a couple of times.” he admits. “Generally speaking I’m a pretty even-keeled person but it was stressful.” He emphasizes, “People are like ‘Wow, it sounds like a whole lot of fun.’ It was but parts of it wasn’t. There was a lot to do and little time to do it in. Sometimes it was hot and people weren’t listening and there are crowds and the air conditioning doesn’t work sometimes.” Still, sweltering heat and unruly crowds did not daunt the veteran director. Lee reveals that he had the audience topmost in mind while creating the movie and had definite ideas about how he wanted people to feel while they were watching the film. Achieving this demanded a lot of technical gymnastics. First, he restructured the whole beginning of the film because it wasn’t the energy level that he wanted or thought the audience deserved. “It just wasn’t moving the way I wanted it to.” He explains, “You want your movie to start off with a bang because it’s a comedy, the audience is there and they’re like, ‘okay, make me laugh.’ If your first few jokes don’t land, you’re dead.” He also wished to put the audience at the center of all the action. To do that, he reveals he took advantage of the fact that there was a lot of footage being shot on hand-held cameras. “Knowing we were shooting at a live event and had hand-held cameras I wanted to incorporate much of the hand-held work into a lot of the other scenes.”
Raising the bar even more, he used GoPro and iPhone footage mixed in with other footage to have an “immersive feeling.” He said, “I wanted the audience to get the feeling that they were at the festival, at the convention center. I thought it was a great way to tell the story.” Speaking of the main characters, he states, “I want these characters to be relatable no matter how silly or crazy they get at the end of the day they are human beings. There’s a human connection there’s a vulnerability underneath Dina’s craziness there’s more going on than what’s on the surface.” Also lending to the realistic feel of the movie is the fact that almost none of the festival performance scenes were staged. “A lot of it was shot at the Essence Festival; (performances) like Diddy, Morris Chestnut, Mariah Carey, Doug E Fresh, MC Lyte, Lalah Hathaway, Common, New Edition, Ne-Yo. We shot them at the actual festival.” He explains excitedly, “Some people came back like Iyanla , Carla Hall and Estelle. It was all very organic. I don’t like movies where there are random cameos just for no reason.” Though no stranger to stories of friendships and relationships, this was his first foray into telling a story that held female friendship in such exclusively tight focus. Confident as he was in his ability to pull it off, there was a hint of consternation, as he said, “I would say that there was a little trepidation.” He admitted with just the slightest bit of hesitation. “However, whether it’s women or men, I approach them all as characters.” He goes on, “I am telling a story about people and certainly, you’re talking about women, black women. I love black women, I get a lot of joy out of black women. I am married to a black woman, some of my best friends are black women and I’m like ‘y’all are dynamic.’ Essence is a dynamic place, and it needs to be on film. You need to be represented in the way you see yourselves, not the way that other people see you.” (shadowandact.com)
Director Malcolm D. Lee on Casting “Girls Trip”
“I put Regina in her first movie. She’s been the best friend, the sister, the wife — it was time for her to be the leading lady. I knew that even though the role wasn’t written funny, Regina would find pockets to be funny, because she’s so gifted and smart in that regard. Then we thought, maybe we can reunite the sisters of ‘Set It Off,’ Jada and Latifah. They were both interested and weren’t gonna do the role without one another, and it’s the first time they’ve been onscreen together in 20 years. For Dina, we saw a lot of people and Tiffany had the goods to be in the moment and improvise on the material. There were many times that Tiffany decided that she was just gonna go for it, and you have to let an actress like that have the freedom she needs to play. I didn’t know how she was gonna handle the grapefruiting technique — we thought, she should demonstrate it and not just talk about it. [Laughs] We had a few takes because I had to tell Jada and Latifah, “You gotta just bite the inside of your cheeks or something, because I don’t want you to laugh!” (hollywoodreporter.com)
About Screenwriter Kenya Barris
Barris was raised by his divorced mother in a low- income neighborhood of Los Angeles. Midway through his childhood, the family relocated to the more affluent neighborhood of Hancock Park, a move up the socio-economic ladder that was life-changing for Barris. “We sort of went up a rung, and I was just at that age where I was old enough to see both sides, so that really influenced who I am,” he recalled during an interview with NPR’s Fresh Air in 2016. He attended Clark Atlanta University and Morehouse College in Atlanta, where he got involved in the Atlanta comedy scene doing stand-up that he describes as “meh.” Back in Los Angeles, he began writing for television, including the sitcom Sister/Sister, the late-night “The Keenan Ivory Wayans Show,” the Showtime drama series “Soul Food,” and the comedies “Listen Up,” “Like Family,” “The Game,” “Girlfriends”, and “I Hate My Teenage Daughter.” Together with his childhood friend, model Tyra Banks, he co-created the reality TV blockbuster America’s “Next Top Model,” which has run on VH1 for twenty-three seasons. He also wrote and created BET’s “The Start Up” and Hulu’s first half-hour comedy series, “We Got Next.” His first feature film, “Barbershop: The Next Cut,” was released in 2016. Black-ish premiered on ABC in 2014 and has received critical and audience acclaim. Barris has penned the particularly topical episodes: one about police violence titled “Hope,” and one that closely followed the 2016 presidential election, “Lemons”. “We want to start a conversation,” Barris told the New York Times after the broadcast. “We try to do it in a way that’s entertaining and doesn’t feel saccharine or like we’re on a pulpit.” This past year, Kenya has co-created the hour-long pilot “Unit Zero” starring Toni Collette and the half-hour pilot “Libby & Malcolm” starring Courtney B. Vance and Felicity Huffman. He’s also developing several projects with 20th Century Fox Film, including “White Men Can’t Jump,” “Cheaper by the Dozen,” and “Stir Crazy.” (tufts.edu)… He recently co-wrote…the hit comedy, Girls Trip. His upcoming feature titles include “Son of Shaft,” “Coming to America 2” and an animated film based on the songs of Bob Marley. (caa.com)
About Screenwriter Tracy Oliver
“Girls Trip” screenwriter Tracy Y. Oliver got a career by getting mad. Before she became the co-star, writer, and producer on fellow Stanford University alum Issa Rae’s web series “The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl,” she watched the 2009 ensemble rom-com “He’s Just Not That Into You” starring Ginnifer Goodwin, Jennifer Aniston, Jennifer Connelly and Scarlett Johansson. The film was set in Baltimore, which has a population that is 64% black and 30% white. That led to a spec script: “Marriage Is for White People.” She said she wrote it in jest, but it stemmed from a very real response. “It had an all-white cast, which made little sense to me,” she said. “Baltimore is very black, and it felt like an aggressive erasure of people of color. So instead of just being upset about it, I thought, let me write my own ensemble version but will be all people of color.” Since then, Oliver became the first African American woman to write a feature (with co-writer Kenya Barris) that grossed over $100 million domestic with “Girls Trip.” The film’s critical and commercial success led to a first-look deal with Topic Studios, and a work calendar that includes a serial adaptation of the 1996 dramedy “The First Wives Club,” a “Clueless” remake, and the adaptation of “The Sun Is Also a Star,” which Warner Bros. releases May 17. Directed by Ry Russo-Young, and starring “Grown-ish‘s” Yara Shahidi and “Riverdale‘s” Charles Melton, “The Sun Is Also a Star” marks Oliver’s first solo feature writing credit, and her second studio release this year, following Universal’s “Little,” which she co-wrote with director Tina Gordon. Oliver said that while her spec script got Hollywood’s attention, she was dismayed to learn that her message seemed to lose something in translation. “It helped get me a reputation, although what I discovered from all the meetings I took is that if I wanted to advance, at least at the time, I had to write something ‘white’,” Oliver said. “That was really disheartening because one of the reasons I wanted to even do this was because I wanted to see myself and people I knew, reflected on screen.”
That led to the creation of “Awkward Black Girl,” which later became the precursor to HBO’s “Insecure.” “We weren’t making any money from it, because all of the money being made was reinvested back into the show,” Oliver said. “So I had to get a real job to be able to do other things that I hoped in the long run would pan out.” Eventually, “Marriage Is for White People” made its way to Dan Fogelman (“This Is Us”), with whom Oliver shared a manager at the time. “He read it, thought it was hilarious, and then met with me and said that we should figure out a way to work on something,” she said. “And as soon as ‘Neighbors’ went to series, he made good on that and hired me.” The short-lived ABC comedy-science fiction series (2012-2014) marked the USC Peter Stark Producing Program graduate’s first big break. “What Dan did for me, honestly, was help me stay on my feet, and validate me as a professional writer while I was still doing ‘Awkward Black Girl’,” she said. Since then, Oliver has spent a season on the Starz dramedy “Survivor’s Remorse” (2014-2015), where she served as story editor and writer, to her first feature film credit, co-writing “Barbershop: The Next Cut” (2016) with Barris, followed by “Girls Trip,” and “Little.” (indiewire.com)
About Director Malcolm D. Lee
Writer-director-producer Malcolm D. Lee has been making films since the age of 12 in animation, video and Super-8 film formats. He has been working professionally in the industry since age 17 as a production assistant, apprentice film editor, casting associate, assistant director, and director’s assistant. After completing his undergraduate studies at Georgetown University in 1992 with a BA in English and Fine Arts minor, Lee accepted a year-long fellowship in screenwriting from Walt Disney Studios. Following his early Hollywood experience, he gained entry to New York University’s Tisch School Of The Arts, honed his craft as a director and writer, and went on to make the award-winning short film, “Morningside Prep.” With his 6th screenplay, “The Best Man,” Lee made his directorial debut. The Universal Pictures’ film opened to rave reviews by critics and audiences alike and scored a #1 ranking at the box office in October of 1999. Lee then directed the action comedy “Undercover Brother” with Eddie Griffin, Dave Chappelle and Neil Patrick Harris in May of 2002 to stellar reviews. His 3rd feature, “Roll Bounce” for Fox Searchlight debuted September 2005. Lee’s critically acclaimed films- “Welcome Home Roscoe Jenkins” (with Martin Lawrence) and “Soul Men” (with Samuel L. Jackson & Bernie Mac)- bowed in 2008.
In November of 2013 (a banner year for African American films) Lee released the sequel to his first film. “The Best Man Holiday” grossed $30.5 Million in its opening weekend alone pleasing audiences and shocking the industry with a game-changing debut. Another installment of “The Best Man” franchise is in the works. 2016 brought “Barbershop: The Next Cut” (Ice-Cube, Cedric The Entertainer, Nicki Minaj), which garnered Lee the best reviews of his career. His biggest box-office to date is the breakout comedy of 2017, “Girls Trip.” The Universal Pictures comedy, starring Regina Hall, Queen Latifah, Jada Pinkett Smith, and Tiffany Haddish has grossed over $140M world-wide and scored 89% on Rotten Tomatoes! In September of 2018, Lee teamed up with Kevin Hart and Tiffany Haddish for the comedy, “Night School” which grossed over $100M worldwide, and is now in the process of developing film and television projects for NBCUniversal and Universal Pictures. (blackmaled.com)