Bad Trip (2021)

One of the more surprising narratives this Awards Season has been the glowing accolades for Borat 2 (aka Borat Subsequent Moviefilm), including multiple nominations for Academy Awards in pretty major categories.  Not only is the Borat sequel middling as a comedy loosely stuffed with hit-or-miss gags, but its staged-pranks format has gotten incredibly dusty in the decades since series like The Ali G Show, Jackass, and The Tom Green Show first premiered on television.  This is especially true of the Borat schtick in particular, since the popularization of platforms like Twitter & Fox News have made it so the modern ghoul no longer needs to be tricked into broadcasting their ghoulish beliefs in public.  They just do it openly & proudly now.  I left Borat 2 wondering if the post-Jackass prank movie had anywhere left to go that hadn’t already been seen dozens of times before.  I should have known that the much-delayed Eric Andre vehicle Bad Trip would have an answer for that, as his own modern mutation of the Ali G-era prank show has been pushing that medium to new, weird extremes in recent years.  What I didn’t expect is that Andre’s innovations within that format would be so glaringly Retro.

In Bad Trip, a stunted-adult loser (Eric Andre) travels up the East Coast with his best friend (Lil Rel Howery) in a car stolen from that bestie’s tough-as-nails sister (Tiffany Haddish) in order to profess his love to his childhood crush (Michaela Conlin).  Hijinks ensue along the way.  That absurdly simplistic premise is repeatedly derailed by one-off gags in which the three professional comedians at the film’s center interact with an unexpecting public through candid-camera pranks, crassly blending fact & fiction in an otherwise traditional road trip movie.  The pranks portions of Bad Trip are exactly what you’d expect from a candid-cam comedy starring Eric Andre: shocking absurdist gags, abrasive gross-outs, and a constant tension between chaos & artifice.  You can tell Andre grew up admiring shows like Jackass and revels in the opportunity to create one himself on such a large scale.  There’s nothing especially innovative or surprising there, outside maybe the shocks of individual gags.  The surprising thing about Bad Trip is how much Andre (along with frequent collaborator Kitao Sakurai in the director’s chair) taps into the other kinds of comedies he grew up watching in the film’s scripted portions.

The scripted connective tissue between Bad Trip‘s pranks oddly shares more DNA with mainstream 90s & 00s comedies than it does with Borat or Jackass.  The film is practically a parody of the gross-out humor that flooded Hollywood comedies after the Farrelly Brothers hit it big with There’s Something About Mary; it just happens to invite an unaware public into the grotesque mayhem of those films’ juvenile humor.  It even openly acknowledges its connection to that vintage comedic past by citing the Wayans Brothers comedy White Chicks as a specific touchstone, both in its scripted portions and in its in-the-wild pranks.  The film is effectively an act of post-modern scholarship, connecting the candid-cam pranks era to an even earlier wave of gross-out shock comedies – freshening up both formats through the juxtaposition.  That may seem like highfalutin praise for a film where Andre posits public streaking, puking, and urination as the height of modern comedy, but I really do believe there’s an academic thrust behind that retrograde buffoonery.

Unfortunately, not all of the ways in which Bad Trip is Ironically Retro are fun to watch.  Some of the films’ post-Farrelly Brothers humor did not sit right with me, especially the pranks on people just trying their best to get through their shifts at work and the extensive gag in which Andre is sexually assaulted by a gorilla.  They’re jokes that you would totally expect to see in a mainstream comedy twenty years ago, though, for whatever that’s worth.  It’s the juxtaposition of that grotesque humor with real-life participants that makes the film feel fresh & dangerous in the first place, a tonal clash exaggerated by its often-wholesome story about two adult men bonding on a haphazard road trip.  Even given some of its mood-killing misfires, Bad Trip is on the whole much funnier and much more excitingly innovative than the softball political jabs of Borat 2 – an Oscar-nominated mediocrity.  At the very least, it’s a film that’s aware that it’s participating in a dead, moldy genre, and it goes out of its way to acknowledge how its staged-pranks format is out of sync with modern comedic sensibilities.

-Brandon Ledet

Girls Trip (2017)

In a summer when many comedies fell flat & promptly disappeared, Girls Trip excelled as a surprise runaway success lingering in theaters for months longer than its closest competition (Rough Night, Fun Mom Dinner, etc.). It’s not at all difficult to see why the film would carry a wide appeal & resulting financial success. As a star-studded broad comedy (featuring heavy hitters Regina Hall, Jada Pinkett Smith, and Queen Latifah among pop music celebrity cameos from performers like P. Diddy & Estelle) that caters directly to black audiences, Girls Trip taps directly into a criminally underserved market desperate to see its POV properly represented on the big screen. In a more idiosyncratic sense, it also cast an impossibly wide net in terms of tone. Girls Trip is an unashamedly maudlin comedy about adult sisterhood that drowns its audience in melodramatic cheese in its reflections on motherhood, religious Faith, adultery, betrayal, and falling out of touch with loved ones. It’s also one of the bawdiest, most aggressively horny comedies of the year, with a turn from breakout star Tiffany Haddish steering the ship out of its Hallmark Channel waters towards the prankish filth of Divine’s turn in Pink Flamingos every opportunity she’s allowed at the helm. These two warring halves– the raunchy & the sentimental– make for a wholly unpredictable, tonally chaotic summertime comedy that’s bound to grab the attention of anyone within earshot. Very rarely is something with commercial appeal this vast is so energetically strange & memorable for its grand scale acts of depravity.

The four leads of this corny/raunchy comedy feel as if they were grown in a lab to appeal to every quadrant of middle aged women in 2010s America. Queen Latifah is a skilled journalist whose talents are going to waste writing click bait hit pieces on celebrity gossip. Regina Hall is billed as the second coming of Oprah, a successful woman who seemingly Has It All in public, but struggles to keep her family together in private. Tiffany Haddish is a nuclear element of chaos, an overgrown childhood id in an adult woman’s body. Jada Pinkett-Smith is an uptight Party Mom, a “nurturer”, which is in direct contrast to her real life persona fronting a nu-metal band (!) & raising America’s most adorable space aliens. Self-described as The Flossy Posse, this meticulously crafted crew reunites after their post-college fall-out for an extravagant trip to New Orleans, where they attend Essence Fest & generally raise hell. Half the plot concerns mending emotional wounds between Latifah & Hall’s estranged besties as they try to save face in discussions of their personal lives. The other half is a group-wide mission to get Pinkett Smith’s hopelessly milquetoast Mother archetype laid. Haddish operates entirely outside either concern, ensuring the film’s immortality in her Freddy Got Fingered levels of depravity. Haddish’s lengthy tangents about ripping men’s hearts out & storing drugs in her “bootyhole” are paired with acts of mimed fellatio & a firehose of sprayed urine to completely pervert & subvert all of the film’s more heartfelt reflections on betrayal, reconciliation, and True Friendship. Haddish is not the only Flossy Posse member with blue material; every character gets their fair share of one-liners about giant dicks, camel toe, etc. Her performance just pushes the material into all-timer territory in its commitment to depravity & its freedom to exist outside concerns of realism or grounding melodrama.

New Orleans is the perfect backdrop for these sordid/maudlin shenanigans, but I have to admit I was often distracted by the way my city was depicted onscreen. The laws of movie magic dictate that I cannot nitpick the logic of the Hotel Monteleone’s carousel bar being near-empty on a festival weekend, the convenience of cabs & hotel rooms opening out of nowhere, the inhuman ability for the Flossy Posse to down consecutive Hand Grenades™ without exploding into piles of vomit, or the lunacy of a character having their morning coffee at the Topical Isle daiquiri chain. I can let these minuscule details go. The sanitized amusement park look of America’s infected bootyhole, Bourbon Street, was laughably unrealistic, however, and as a local it’s always sad to see one of the most vital, dynamic cultures on the planet reduced to off-season Mardi Gras beads & public flashing. From a tourist’s perspective, this view of the city might right true, though. There’s genuine admiration for the city in the film’s loving shots of the Superdome and local music touches like a twerking-flavored bounce show or a brass band rendition of a Bill Withers classic. Essence Fest also plays a huge role in Girls Trip‘s basic appeal. Not only does it allow for pop music acts to break up more labored stretches of emotional conflict; it also leads to weird novelties like this being the only film you’re likely to ever see where Ava DuVernay & DJ Mannie Fresh are both featured in prominent cameos. On some level, Girls Trip works as a dual commercial both for New Orleans as a lawless playground and for Essence as a concert experience. I just hope that anyone who takes the bait is aware that they won’t have as effortless of a time with it as The Flossy Posse, even with Regina Hall money to throw around.

There are plenty of reasons why Girls Trip shouldn’t work nearly as well as it does. Besides its depiction of a pristine, non-existent New Orleans, the film is overlong, dramatically labored, and embarrassingly cheesy. You get a whopping taste of that cheese in its introductory stretch, which heavily features a lazily Photoshopped group portrait of The Flossy Posse standing in front of a green screen Superdome and (I kid you not) opens with a record scratch sound effect. It’s somehow easy to even be charmed by that opener, however, thanks to how a look back to the crew’s college days allows for open 90s nostalgia (a hot commodity right now, another reason why Latifah’s casting was perfectly calibrated). If Girls Trip is indeed a movie-by-committee proposition engineered to appeal to as many people as possible, I’ll admit I was not at all immune to its scheme. The film’s gleeful participation in overt, oversexed filth plays directly to my raccoonish tastes. Even if the massive runtime or clueless sentimentality had entirely soured me, I still would have walked away a fan of Tiffany Haddish, whose Jerri Blank-esque presence elevates the material immeasurably. I wasn’t necessarily negative on the film’s emotionally manipulate half either, though. Not every story beat about motherhood anxiety or the struggle to maintain the integrity of Christian Faith & public brands did something for me, but the film’s overall celebration of female friendship is undeniably infectious. It may be a story that could have been told more honestly & more succinctly, but the way its genuine pathos is perverted by the chaos of bar fights, hallucination, and male frontal nudity made for a delightfully subversive summertime comedy. I just won’t shed a tear if Girls Trip 2 happens to be set in another city, so I can focus less on setting & more on whom the Flossy Posse is banging, pissing on, giving a sincere heart to heart to, etc.

-Brandon Ledet