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Girlfriends’ Getaway a fun ride

Tuesday, September 9, 2014
The cast of Girlfriends Getaway, from left, Terri J Vaughn, Essence Atkins, Malinda Williams and Garcelle Beauvais.

In one of the early scenes in the new American comedy Girlfriends’ Getaway, four 40-something girlfriends vacationing in Trinidad arrive at their luxurious villa and one of them—Sophie, played by Terri J Vaughn—begins spraying disinfectant and wiping down furniture.

“The islands carry lots of germs our bodies are not immune to,” she tells her companions.

In walks a stern-faced Penelope Spencer, who chillingly informs her: “This entire house has been thoroughly cleaned by me, the maid.”

With her strong presence and deftly subtle comedic performance—she never once cracks a smile—the veteran T&T actress seems to be schooling her American counterparts in other ways as well. 

Her appearance was greeted by cheers from the audience at the MovieTowne Port-of-Spain premiere of the film. Roger Bobb, assistant director on most of Tyler Perry’s box-office-topping films and director/executive producer of Girlfriends’ Getaway, had nothing but praise for the film production and acting talent he found here. 

The majority of the cast and crew of Girlfriends’ Getaway were from T&T, unusual for an American movie shot in the Caribbean.

In front of the camera, notable T&T performers include Spencer, Brett Bengochea as a smooth lawyer trying to court one of the women, and Renaldo Frederick as a dopey, weed-dealing henchman—one of the comedic highlights. 

Behind the camera, Sheldon Felix was director of photography, giving the movie a bright and colourful cast that was helped by the beauty of the locations, which included Maracas Beach, an upscale home in Bayshore, and various parts of Chaguaramas. 

American screenwriter Cas Sigers-Beedles told reporters the movie “feels very Trinidadian,” and she’s right. The American producers, as others have in the past, could have shot the film to make the island come across generic or, worse yet, like Jamaica. 

But there are very distinct T&T markers in the film: undiluted accents; David Rudder’s Trini 2 De Bone playing as the main characters exit the airport, a T&T flag behind them; soca artist Olatunji Yearwood performing at a fete; Daren Ganga playing cricket; and wining, mas-design and doubles-eating competitions.

Trinidadian Lisa Wickham, one of the producers on Girlfriends’ Getaway who was also supervising producer for the Canadian/T&T 2012 hybrid Home Again, talks about the potential for developing the local filmmaking industry through what she calls “blended projects” or collaborations with other countries—and she may be on to something. 

Foreign film producers give local talent access to a larger audience. Local crew members and actors get the chance to learn from more experienced foreign talent. And the foreigners save money by using local staff and settings. 

Girlfriends’ Getaway was shot entirely in Trinidad, even a few early scenes that ostensibly took place in Atlanta. Other than the four main characters, the Americans in these scenes were played by Trinidadians, including Kearn Samuel as a dastardly boyfriend and Cecilia Salazar as a yoga instructor.

Girlfriends’ Getaway is a low-budget TV movie, but a film doesn’t have to be big budget or in award contention to be good for local talent.

Another thing: A couple of local filmmakers told me that including white main characters would make a film more likely to have success abroad. Besides being stunningly cynical and self-hating, this view ignores the potential of niche audiences, including the sizable black audience in the US, Canada and other parts of the world.

Girlfriends’ Getaway premiered over the weekend on TV One, a US television network catering to a black audience, to record ratings, according to director Roger Bobb.

The success of Nollywood and Tyler Perry movies attests to the power of this audience. T&T films can also tap a Caribbean diaspora audience and, of course, an audience within the region. 

Looking at Girlfriends’ Getaway critically, there’s much to nitpick. Many aspects of the script break the bonds of credulity and it uses a lot clichéd themes and emotional devices.

But I don’t think anyone expects intellectual rigour from a film like Girlfriends’ Getaway, which was quickly shot in June and seems fashioned in the Tyler Perry mould. 

It’s technically well-made and good for a few laughs. 

It’s meant to be a fun, light way for family or friends to pass 80 minutes or so together—and it is.


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