Call me surprised with a cherry on top. Girls Trip is not what it looks like on the surface – a black-demo take on Rough Night, Scarlett Johansson's recent white–ish-girls-gone-wild romp in Miami which hit a wall of critical apathy and audience indifference. Not this time. In all the ways ScarJo & co.'s film went wrong (the dead male stripper – ugh!), Malcolm D. Lee's comedy goes hilariously right. Starring Regina Hall, Jada Pinkett Smith, Queen Latifah and Tiffany Haddish as former college besties doing the reunion thing in New Orleans, Girls Trip knows how to let giggles bubble out of character instead of blunt-force farce. It makes all the difference.
The writing team, headed by Black-ish creator Kenya Barris, stays refreshingly alert to racial and class issues that raise the bar on the usual silliness, though there's still plenty of that. And director Lee (The Best Man) actually treats the ladies as real people instead of props. Let's hope it's a trend. The plot may be standard issue, but this quartet of stars is off-the-chain irresistible. Hall is outstanding (no surprise) as Ryan, a self-help author and budding Oprah with a marketable knack for balancing – or pretending to balance – a career and a marriage to an NFL hero (Luke Cage's Mike Colter). She's set to speak at the Essence Festival in the Big Easy, the perfect excuse for lots of starry cameos. (Is that you, P. Diddy? It is!)
So why not use the occasion to reconnect with her ex-sorority sisters – the infamous Flossy Posse – who've grown apart with the years. Latifah brings her sass and class to Sasha, a hard journalist who's gone the gossipmonmger route. Pinkett Smith hits all the right notes as Lisa, a nurse and single mom who overcomes her shyness with a hunky stranger Malik (Kofi Siriboe). And get ready for Haddish – a Category 5 hurricane of laughs – who turns wild child Dina into a catalyst for raunch unleashed. To hear Haddish explain the meaning of "grapefruiting" … you'll never get that out of your head.
Complications ensue when Ryan thinks Sasha might be responsible for a leaked photo of her cheating husband engaged in something kinky with a so-called "Instagram model." Yes, it's stale stuff, but in the next minute these four actresses spin us back to the funny and with a warmth and appeal that Hollywood, try as it might, can't manufacture. Latifah, Hall, Pinkett Smith and Haddish are the real deal, side-splitting dynamos who are also women of heart and mind. They make naughty feel like a trip to comedy heaven.