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GIRLS TRIP

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Girls Trip Begins

Ensemble comedy is synonymous with producer Will Packer, who has brought to the screen the films in the Think Like a Man and Ride Along series, as well as a number of additional comedies and beloved dramas. When pondering ideas for his next project, he decided he wanted to bring black women to the big screen in a way that they are seldom seen-in a no-holds-barred, R-rated comedy. "There is this perception or stigma among some that women don't have that kind of fun," says Packer. The producer wanted to change all that and reflect the reality of a long overdue ladies getaway...with some heightened comedy thrown in for good measure.

As he began to brainstorm, Packer reached out to a friend and actress with whom he has worked on several films to discuss a brewing premise. "When I was thinking of the idea for Girls Trip, one of the first people I talked to was Regina Hall-even before I spoke with the studio. I said, 'What if we had four women who go to the Essence Festival, have a bunch of fun, behave badly, get away with it and rekindle their sisterhood?' She said, 'That sounds awesome!' Then I knew I had something."

His very next call was to filmmaker Malcolm D. Lee, whose work he had long admired and who has shaped the genre of dramatic comedy as the writer/director of such landmark films as those in The Best Man series as well as Welcome Home, Roscoe Jenkins. Additionally, as the director of fare from Undercover Brother to Barbershop: The Next Cut, his film voice is quite unique. "When it came to thinking about a director for Girls Trip, I immediately thought of Malcolm. I had just watched The Best Man Holiday, and I loved how he incorporated drama, heart and comedy and molded it all together seamlessly," lauds Packer. "I pitched him this idea for Girls Trip, and he responded right away. I was excited because I knew I needed somebody who could give us raucous comedy and could get actors to infuse our movie with heart. That's something that Malcolm does very, very well."

Lee responded to his fellow producer's idea. "We've all seen the paradigm of men behaving badly and going away on a weekend doing terrible things and getting away with it...and their wives are none the wiser," he offers. "Will said, 'Let's do that with women and set it at Essence.' I told him, 'I'm 100 percent in.' This is the perfect place to set the story because it is a celebration of black womanhood and all of its forms."

The director admits that he very much connected to Packer's sensibility and imagery. "Will is passionate about African-American images on screen and wanting those to change the narrative and be dynamic and be real."

The next step was crafting the story beats and screenplay, filled with characters on a fun, flirty and delightfully raunchy getaway. Their five-year-overdue celebration would not only test the deep bonds of long-lasting friendship, it would force them all to come away deeply changed. While the screenplay's four friends are lifelong ones, they haven't hung out in a meaningful way in forever. This long weekend at Essence Festival there will be no kids or rules. Their baggage and their beefs will be hauled out into the opening, and everyone is fair game.

Throughout the development of the script-from screenwriters Kenya Barris & Tracy Oliver, based on a story by Erica Rivinoja and Barris & Oliver-Packer and Lee aimed to tell the story of these four girlfriends just as they were...blemishes and all. While some might appear to have the perfect existence, and others look like they're the perfect mess, the filmmakers honored the blurry lines that brought the characters together and bonded them for life. That comedy and the drama is the most enjoyable to mine.

The director/producer introduced us to the story of this "Flossy Posse," characters he feels all of us can see ourselves in: "We have this group of women who went to college together and are best friends. They've become a little estranged in the past couple of years because life has happened to them-whether it is career, friendships, babies or family time.

"They used to go to Essence Festival annually, but in the past couple of years they haven't, and it's time to reconnect," Lee continues. "Due to a couple fractures in their relationships, there are unspoken words that get revealed at this particular time-in the midst of all the chaos, fun and debauchery that ensues. I believe everybody, especially women, are going to recognize themselves in these characters."

Lee appreciated the relatability of these protagonists, who represent so many adults struggling to hold on to the best parts of their youth, while letting go of the past and fully embracing the next chapter in their lives. "We all know a Sasha, who is very fashion-forward and at a crossroads in their career, as well as a Ryan, somebody who is wildly successful and independent, but may be hiding something," he surmises. "Similarly, we all know a Dina, who's going to have your back. The one who can turn up the party and make some mayhem happen. You want her around but you're also thinking, 'oh, boy, she might get us into some trouble. Then there's Lisa, who has lost her way and has to rediscover her womanhood. She once was this fierce, sexual creature who is now trapped in mom jeans."

Ryan, Sasha, Dina and Lisa-better known as the "Flossy Posse"-all head to New Orleans for the Essence Festival, with plans to stay up late, drink, dance, unwind, get wild and crazy and make memories. With the nonstop energy of Bourbon Street as the backdrop, they'll deal with some long-lasting issues that explode into the open. Lisa herself, Jada Pinkett Smith, explains the origin of the term: "It's that young girl phrase when you name your clique."

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