Girls Trip - a title in desperate, aching need of an apostrophe, but that's neither here nor there - is made out of stock ingredients, and nothing can change that. But then, comfort food is by design made out of stock ingredients, and Girls Trip is supremely comforting. "The uptight one, the one with a family, the one who want it all to be like it was, and the maniac drunk agent of chaos hang out for a weekend" has produced more awful films than great ones, and while we're certainly nowhere close to "great" with this particular film, greatness was plainly not the goal. Giving us a swell time with four well-defined characters, and providing some screen time for a demographic segment mostly invisible in mainstream filmmaking, those were all the goals Girls Trip set for itself, and it succeeds perfectly. So it provides no surprises; it doesn't need to and it doesn't want to.

Disregarding the very salient fact that the characters are African-American women in their 40s, the situation here is one we've all seen before: for many years, Ryan (Regina Hall), Sasha (Queen Latifah), Lisa (Jada Pinkett Smith), and Dina (Tiffany Haddish) were tight-knit friends, but about 20 years after college, they simply stopped, in part owing to a rift between Ryan and Sasha (I am grateful to say that the details of that rift filter their way into Kenya Barris & Tracy Oliver's screenplay organically, without the kind of dopey "do you remember this thing that we all know happened?" chatter in the early going). Ryan, now a hugely successful media personality with her ex-pro-athlete husband Stewart (Mike Colter) - in one of the several places where the script gets a touch sloppy, he's implied to have been a baseball player before being stated to be a former NFL star - has been invited to give the keynote speech at the Essence Festival in New Orleans, and in keeping with her best-selling philosophy that "You Can Have It All", she's decided that she is, by God, going to rekindle that most important foursome, the Flossy Posse, and so she invites the other three to join her for a weekend of bonding. Which is all well and good, but Dina in particular has more pointed interests in making sure that the bonding takes place with plenty of raging drunkenness and consequence-free sex.

As is generally common with comedies in the "old friends re-bonding" genre, and particularly true of comedies targeting an African-American audience, Girls Trip is a wild mixed bag of different tonal registers. It contains, without any apparent strain in doing so, straightfaced and downright miserable depictions of a marriage being tugged apart by adultery and frankly shabby motivations for having formed in the first place (Ryan and Stewart are referred to as a "brand" more often than as a couple), which exist right alongside scenes in which Dina intentionally pisses all over a street full of New Orleans tourists right after Lisa does so accidentally. And I will say right this minute, before we go any further, that loving Girls Trip requires, at a minimum, that you can read a description of the above joke and, at the very least, not find it extraordinarily off-putting. The humor itself is all over the place: sweet little jokes based in character relationships here, big setpiece gags about using grapefruit as a masturbation aid there. Which isn't to say that the grapefuit scene isn't funny, because at the very least, Haddish gives 110% of herself to sell it, and it has the merit of being novel. Still, the film is perfectly fine with the crassest kind of comedy imaginable, and you need to be willing to sign off on it to find it any more than a pleasing time-waster, I think. I confess myself unwilling.

Nevertheless, the film is extremely successful in one key respect: its portrayal of a quartet of friends who have, after 25 years, started to wonder just how much they actually are friends, or should be. It's not so dissimilar from the territory that director Malcolm D. Lee has lately turned into something of his speciality: his last two films were the 14-years-later sequel The Best Man Holiday, and the 12-years-later sequel Barbershop: The Next Cut, and the former of those at least (I still haven't seen the latter) is very much taken up with questions of how we are to relate to people who've been part of our lives for so long that we've stopped thinking about the fact that they're part of our lives. And indeed, the very idea of a sequel coming a decade-plus later is inherently connected to the idea that we'll have different feelings about people after so many years, critical thought mingling with pleasurable nostalgia. Girls Trip does much the same thing, only without the benefit of our having met the titular girls before now.

But that's hardly a limitation. Part of the joy of the script, the direction, and the performances lies in sketching out a portrait of the four women that tells us everything we need to know about them, giving us a clear sense of who they are and who they were. Haddish is getting the most attention, presumably because she has the most outrageous dialogue and is the least-exposed (in movies, anyway), but I'd be hard-pressed to rank them: all four leads are excellent, if never quite able to completely disappear into the roles (Regina Hall's character, especially feels very much like "the Regina Hall character"). The film lives or dies based on the chemistry between the actors, which is just off the charts: Hall's neediness towards Latifah, and Haddish's evident delight in twitting Pinkett Smith, among less pervasive relationships, capture something perfect about the naturalness of life-long friendships. It's easy to believe these people have always known each other, even if it's not quite possible to believe that the other three would still be so eager to keep Dina around (Haddish is also by almost a full decade the youngest of the actors, which doesn't help matters), given her disruptive, openly abrasive personality.

Those relationships cover up a lot of sins: the film is over-long and frequently aimless, and Lee's attempts to occasionally flash out with style (an absinthe binge being the obvious example, but not the only one) don't generally work well; the flat medium shots that dominate the film are perfectly fine at putting across the characters, the jokes, and the life lessons, and nothing beyond that was necessary, and it's not artistically interesting enough to be anything but a distraction. And while there's surely some value to representations of African-American women onscreen, it's a little too noticeable that their wacky adventures and subsequent life lessons are broadly identical to the ones experienced by white men in similar films - surprise and novelty are just not priorities here. Amiability is, and Girls Trip has amiability to spare; it's a perfectly delightful hang-out movie, absolutely easy to like and root for, and to happily ignore all its flaws.