The films of Malcolm D. Lee have rarely popped up on my radar. As far back as Roll Bounce to one of my guilty pleasures, Undercover Brother. I checked out Lee’s Barbershop: The Next Cut one night a year ago and it was a welcome surprise. When ads started popping up a couple months ago for Lee’s latest, Girls Trip, I thought it would be one that would end up being forgotten in the summer fray. Especially opening against a titan like Dunkirk. Much to my surprise, Girls Trip is hilarious and thoughtful. Elevated by an unforgettable turn from comedian Tiffany Haddish and a knack for avoiding cliches, Girls Trip is a riot, even through some bumps in the road.

The story of the film revolves around Ryan Pierce (Regina Hall), a motivational speaker and TV personality. Ryan and her friends, known as the Flossy Posse, get back together to have an alcohol infused weekend in New Orleans at the annual Essence Festival. Ryan is a Oprah like personality whom with her husband, Stewart (Luke Cage‘s Mike Colter), a former all-pro tight end, form a power celebrity couple. Ryan with her former college friends take the town by storm, almost literally.

Quite possibly the funniest character in the film is Tiffany Haddish’s Dina. Haddish is uproariously funny and practically demands your laughter. While the rest of the cast is funny, Haddish really elevates the material. Dina is crude, volatile and a true party animal. But, unfortunately, the biggest of all the laughs do come from Haddish. To that point, Lee does seem to rely on her comedic ability a bit too much.

Rounding out the Flossy Posse is Queen Latifah as Sasha and Jada Pinkett Smith as Lisa. Sasha had a tighter relationship with Ryan at one point but it has gone by the wayside in the twenty plus years since the height of their friendship. Lisa meanwhile, is fresh off a divorce and has two kids. She is a straight arrow and predictably goes off the rails.

The movie isn’t perfect. The constant laughs aren’t always enough to overshadow the films flaws. First and foremost, it’s too long. Coming in at just over two hours, the films pacing drags at some points and some of the fat ultimately should’ve been trimmed. There’s also a little too much gross out humor. Including one memorable scene that leaves Lisa flying high above Bourbon Street. For all of the laughs and well timed jokes, theres a few that ultimately didn’t hit for me. Among all of those flaws and the with all the comedic flare, it still is a bit too formulaic as well.

Perhaps, one of the biggest achievements of the film is the combination of Lee’s direction and Kenya Barris (creator of ABC’s Black-ish) and Tracy Oliver’s script. Girls Trip‘s success is mostly due to the fact that we really care about the four immensely talented ladies at the forefront. Their bond is felt throughout the movie in large part due to the grounded nature of Barris and Oliver’s script. Comedies often feel void of any emotional attachment, but Girls Trip is ultimately too smart for that. The characters have legitimate arcs, the most impressive of them being the emotional battle between Ryan and Sasha. In fact, Ryan is at the center of another emotional conflict between her and her husband.

What works so well in the film is that the conflict feels entirely authentic. The characters react in ways that demand you to have an emotional connection with them. It’s a feeling all too rare in not just comedies, but Hollywood in general. Its refreshing to see that originality, especially when a film like Rough Night, summers earlier and mostly white version of this film, feels entirely tone deaf.

Female empowerment is the over arching theme to be found in Girls Trip. Yet, this is a film anyone can enjoy. It has gut busting laughs throughout and feels innovative. While there are derivative elements to be found here, Girls Trip is a terrific ride from start to finish. It’s a wonderful step forward for cinema that the movie made $30 million in it’s opening weekend on a budget of around $19 million. It is proof that women can deliver big time financially at the box office without the film they inhabit succumbing to pandering. Girls Trip, despite being formulaic, shines as the best comedy of the summer, and it’s not even close.