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How 'Girls Trip' Helped Me Escape the Madness

I have seen the movie seven times, and it helped me survive the summer.
Girls Trip.

Girls Trip.

If I have learned anything in my time on this spinning rock teeming with disaster, it's that there are as many ways out of anxiety as into it. I am an anxious person, and I mean that in a very clinical sense. I also believe that many more people are becoming anxious people of late, though I don't have much science to back that up beyond the persistent (and justified) fretting of all my friends, who see their world ending in a brutal news cycle that hasn't let up for well over a year. I wake up and take a large and deep breath before reading the news. I come home from dinner and pick up my phone for the first time in hours, expecting the worst. After I return from a long run, I see the blue light at the tip of my phone and cringe, thinking about what news alert might be waiting for me this time. I don't want the world to end, but I also find myself unsure how it gets better. And that presents its own field of fresh and blooming fears. As a result, I have found myself becoming a creature of routine. I find an escape, and I repeat the motions of that escape until it becomes second nature to me. I like to know where my freedom is coming from, and I like to know where I can get to it.

The first time I saw the movie Girls Trip, it was late one night in Chicago. I was there with friends for a reading, and, as is usually the case when I visit Chicago, the reading later devolved into a loud card game in a public place, which then spilled into an hour where I certainly should have been asleep, but wasn't. The suggestion of Girls Trip was floated by someone who had seen it already. I hadn't, though I'd planned to. It was only about a week old by this point, and the reviews—from actual film critics, and from the sometimes more accurate film critics of social media—had been glowing. As we began our walk to the theater, I glanced at the news alerts on my phone. There was friction over the president's proposed transgender military ban. Anthony Scaramucci, still the White House communications director at this point, was scuffling with then-Chief of Staff Reince Priebus on Twitter. Obamacare, it seemed, was about to be gutted by eager senators. It had been a long night.

The reason that Girls Trip works as an escape from so much noise is that it demands nothing except a viewer willing to accept absurdity. The film has a plot, of course, and it is a fine plot, unraveling a lot about friendship and commitment and independence as it coasts to a satisfying if predictable finish. But the plot in Girls Trip is almost secondary, the background to the real purpose of the film, which is to stage a series of ridiculous comedic interactions, some that are fall-out-of-your-seat funny, and some where a viewer might cringe a bit before surrendering to laughter.

A pivotal scene finds Jada Pinkett-Smith's (initially reserved) character getting stuck on a zip-line over a crowded New Orleans street—and suddenly she has to go to the bathroom, which ends with her urinating over the onlookers. It's the kind of aimless, delightfully gross slapstick that has often been reserved for men. Tiffany Haddish's star turn in the film is worthy of an Oscar nomination, if only for a scene near the end, in which her character goes through several rotations of a heated exit after a fight with her friends, only to circle back numerous times to say one last, hilarious thing, or to return something she'd borrowed, before eventually storming off and turning back around. It's an old-school gag, one that has been done since the days of grainy films in the silent era. But Haddish's mastery of the subtle movements of forgetful fury is a highlight of the film—the moment where I began laughing and found myself unable to stop until my whole body shook.

There is something forgiving about that kind of laughter in uncertain and frustrating times. Body-shaking laughter is about an uncontrollable joy entering a body and then getting the most out of the body before it exits. I think of the body's shaking as a way to wrestle with that brief happiness, fighting to keep it inside for a little longer, until a few loud (or quiet trembling) shakes later, it's gone.

I also tremble when I am anxious. Not as violently as I used to when I was in my late teens, or even early 20s. Most people who are around me in my most anxious moments are unlikely to notice it. What is odd about anxiety, as I've known it, is that so much goes into hiding it—which is itself an anxiety. Leaving Girls Trip for the first time, I thought about how eagerly my body had allowed itself to be wrecked by joy, and how I hadn't thought once of the real world, when I would have almost certainly been obsessing over it otherwise, and trembling with much less comfort.

The second time I saw Girls Trip, it was just a few days later. I was at Politicon, an event that was draining and frustrating and left me without much optimism for the country. I slipped away after a somewhat depressing panel on the state of "fatherhood in communities," and slid into a theater next door to the venue. There were only 10 people inside for the afternoon showing of Girls Trip. We laughed and cheered together.

The third time I saw Girls Trip, I awoke up to a news alert with another North Korea threat, and another response from the American president that made it seem like leaders of both countries were beckoning death. I rolled out of bed, went to my most beloved theater, and sank into a seat entirely alone. I laughed at all of the lowbrow penis jokes, with even more ferocity than I had done the first two times.

I thought about how eagerly my body had allowed itself to be wrecked by joy.

The fourth time I saw Girls Trip, it was another North Korea threat. The fifth time, it was Charlottesville. The sixth time, it was with images of one hurricane dominating the news cycle, only to be pushed away by the promise of another hurricane on the way, and then another. The seventh time, and likely the last, was just this week when, overwhelmed not by the news but by the kind of deadlines that seem to multiply over a lunch hour, I decided to take in the film one last time.

Girls Trip is on its way out of theaters, at least in my little corner of the world. When I saw it this week, it was in a tiny theater, during the cinema's only showing of the day—right in the middle of the afternoon. It's where a film is placed when it's had a triumphant run and gets one more victory lap before it is pushed out to make way for newer films. There was one other person in the theater with me this time. An older black woman, maybe taking a break from her day as I was, laughed until her body shook at the scene where Jada Pinkett-Smith pees on the crowd. While I lightly chuckled at it, she slapped her chair, craned her neck back, and shook with laughter until well after the scene was over.

We all have our windows out, is what I'm saying. Maybe it's that Girls Trip is the buddy comedy I've always wanted to see: one with black women who are loud and layered and living like no one is watching, instead of the tired trope of old men dying to relive their youth. There's a precedent for this comedy with women; Bridesmaids, which was also stellar, comes to mind. But to see black women at the front made the film a worthwhile escape; to see Queen Latifah and Pinkett-Smith reunited on screen for the first time since Set It Off (Girls Trip, by the way, did include a small but delightful Set It Off reference tucked into a nightclub scene, which I didn't pick up on until my fifth viewing); to see Regina Hall add another stellar performance to a uniquely eclectic career, and to see Haddish become a star in just two hours. It was worth turning the world off and existing in another one, every time.

I didn't tell people that I was going to see Girls Trip all those times, and, with the exception of the first time, I went alone. I think there is no conquering anxiety as much as there is finding an excuse to dig out of it when it digs into you. Left to its own devices (and filtering through our devices), the world would have its way with us, and we'd never be able to tear away from what seems like constant fear. Some days, I wonder whether there will be anything left for me to escape into. It is a new Friday, and Girls Trip is out of theaters near me for good. I'm considering using It as my new escape film. I think I'm less afraid of clowns than I am of the world ending.