Essays Reviewing Debuting Actorsa

There hasn’t been a group of friends this stylish and likable since the “Sex in the City” movies. Movie watchers get to see and experience the partying, laughs and see behind the curtain as the group of four friends get ready for a few nights on the town away from home and responsibilities. Girlfriends reunite for a whirlwind weekend of parties, drinking, men, and great fashion in the movie “Girls Trip”.

Queen Latifah and Jada Pinkett-Smith lead an all-black female cast of leading ladies in the blockbuster movie. The film was released for digital and DVD viewing on October 17. The movie uses comedy and a mix of drama to recreate an unforgettable girl’s weekend experience that friends of any (adult) age can relate to.

Latifah, a 90’s rapper turned actress, starred in one of the highest grossing movies of her career with the box office sales leaping past $100 million in the United States and seeing the same success worldwide. Pinkett-Smith, who also has a long movie and TV career, did a great job of playing a single mom addicted to schedules and hand sanitizer. There was a lot of laughs poking fun at Pinkett-Smith’s character Lisa, who was too obsessed with her kids to get a boyfriend or make time for sex.

Actresses Regina Hall and Tiffany Haddish also star in the film. Hall’s character Ryan is an Oprah-like celebrity focused on being “real” and keeping up appearances. Haddish played Dina, a sexed crazed woman with a short temper. Haddish did a great job of holding up the comedy and crazy fight scenes. Shondaland produced “Private Practice” and “Grey’s Anatomy” TV alum Kate Walsh also added comedy in her supporting role as Ryan’s agent Elizabeth. 

“Girl’s Trip” is a fun movie fit for girlfriends of all cultures. There is plenty of drinking, debauchery, and wild partying when a group of old friends known as the Flossy Posse reunite for a weekend of fun at the Essence festival in New Orleans.

Choosing New Orleans for the film was a great idea since the city is known for Mardi Gras and it’s wild party crowd. There’s also plenty of tourist attractions included in the film including New Orleans famous Bourbon Street, hotels and the French Quarter. One of the funniest scenes of the movie includes the group of friends zip lining between hotels.

The live performances at the Essence festival from Diddy and other musical performers during the film added the party element with live concert footage from the event. Overall the movie was very enjoyable with lots of laughs and jokes aimed at men and women in and out of relationships. 

“Girls Trip”  is the work of blockbuster movie maker Malcolm D. Lee. He previously produced “The Best Man”, “The Best Man Holiday” and “Undercover Brother”. Lee’s savvy producing has led to success at the box office with all of his films.

The formula Lee used in creating “Girls Trip” was classic romantic comedy and “chick flick” but it works in keeping the viewers attention and the storyline moving. The humor and camaraderie among the friends definitely compares with the 2011 blockbuster hit “Bridesmaids”.

“Girls Trip” offers more diversity among its cast than “Bridesmaids”, giving women of color a movie where beauty, success and fashion is celebrated.

The storyline was great but there were a few little issues with the dialogue. Some of the script was a little choppy and unnatural for women of color. There was mention of a “camel toe” a term understood but not typically used among black women. While the movie is written for mass appeal, the main audience is women of color. In spite of a few small places where dialogue was slightly unrealistic, the dialogue was good and typical for a comedy of this type.

The storyline was very believable. Latifah and Pinkett-Smith were the best actors in the film. All of the other co-stars did a great job at delivering the comedy, but in some scenes it was obvious that Latifah and Pinkett-Smith were more skilled than some of the other actors in the film.

The music in the movie was great. In some parts of the film, the comedy was so strong that you don’t even pay attention to the music. Laughter tends to overshadow even the best music.

Another great addition to the film were plenty of male R&B singers and actors who served as eye candy for the women.

Overall, I think the characters bring laughter and fun while celebrating women and the struggles they endure. I would definitely recommend this movie to anyone who has a close group of friends or a desire to have them. I am giving a thumbs up to “Girls Trip” and casting my vote for a sequel.

New year means new beginnings in the world of books, not so much for established novelists – their work tends to hit the shops in the autumn – as for first-time authors. Spring is the season when all the major publishers and, increasingly, the smaller houses too, unveil the fiction debutantes they’re plugging as the next Zadie Smith. The hype can grate but ignore it completely and you might miss a gem: Smith’s White Teeth was a debut, as was The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon and Kathryn Stockett’s The Help. Other superb first novels picked out by the Observer New Review in our annual look at the coming year’s debut fiction have included Jessie Burton’s The Miniaturist, Emma Healey’sElizabeth Is Missing, The Versions Of Usby Laura Barnett and Janet Ellis’s The Butcher’s Hook.

This year’s writers take on subjects as diverse as PTSD, online obsession, alcoholism and witch-hunting. However, the scarcity of new black and ethnic minority writers is a problem publishers need urgently to address. (A recent survey revealed that writers called David are more likely to get into the bestseller charts than BAME authors.) Two new awards, the Guardian and 4th Estate BAME prize and the Jhalak prize, aim to redress this imbalance but at the last count the Jhalak prize had received only 51 submissions, a figure its chair, Sunny Singh, branded “pathetic”. Let’s hope 2018 tells a different story.
Lisa O’Kelly, books editor

Gail Honeyman: ‘It’s no handicap to be older. A bit of life experience is no bad thing’

The late starter from Scotland rewarded with a dream beginning to her writing career

Having nursed a secret ambition to write through her 20s and 30s, Gail Honeyman sensed, as her 40th birthday loomed, that it was now or never. “Writing had always been at the back of my mind but it’s quite a wake-up call, that classic 40th-birthday thing when you think: this might be the time to try something different.”

The decision turned out to be life-changing. Honeyman’s debut novel, Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, is a warm, funny and thought-provoking story that has so far sold in 27 territories, reportedly racked up seven-figure advances and is already garnering rave reviews from previewers five months before publication.

“Even now, talking about it, I’m still pinching myself,” says Honeyman over tea in a west London cafe. “Even in my wildest dreams it’s not a situation I ever imagined myself to be in.”

She grew up in central Scotland, a voracious reader who was taken to the library “a ridiculous number of times a week”. She studied French at Glasgow University followed by postgraduate studies at Oxford, but decided against becoming an academic: “I started doing a PhD and then I thought I don’t really want to spend all this time on my own in the library. Now I’m on my own in the library all the time and I love it,” Honeyman laughs. “But I guess what’s right for you at 22 isn’t necessarily what’s right for you 20 years later.”

Honeyman had a career in economic development and university administration before enrolling in a Faber Academy writing course – whose alumni include Rachel Joyce and SJ Watson – and deciding to write a novel: “I thought: even if I just put it away and don’t show it to anyone – I want to prove to myself I can get to the end.”

She wrote in the mornings, evenings and at weekends, and began entering writing competitions. Success came rapidly. She was longlisted for the BBC’s Opening Lines competition, won a Scottish Book Trust award and her entry to the Lucy Cavendish prize was spotted by one of the judges, agent Madeleine Milburn, who immediately signed Honeyman to her list.

Within a year, Eleanor Oliphant was the subject of a fierce eight-way auction in the UK and became one of the most talked-about books at the 2015 Frankfurt book fair. When did Honeyman realise that this flurry of activity was unusual? “I was managing my expectations the whole time. I wasn’t particularly confident about it. But having more than one publisher want to publish it – that was huge.”

It’s easy to see why Eleanor Oliphant is generating so much buzz. The novel’s heroine is a socially awkward 30-year-old with a traumatic family history, a protagonist who forces readers to question their attitude to society’s outsiders. The book occupies that sweet spot between literary and commercial fiction: a highly readable but beautifully written story that’s as perceptive and wise as it is funny and endearing.

Eleanor was so much fun to write, because there’s a brutal honesty about her. She’s got no filters and no concept of social norms.”

Honeyman cites Jane Eyre as the biggest influence on her heroine. “Jane is hard to love when she’s a kid. She’s a weird kid. There are reasons for that – she’s had a difficult start in life. So I was thinking of that with Eleanor – she doesn’t make it easy for herself. She’s not a people pleaser, not naturally charming, and that can make life really difficult for people through no fault of their own.”

With publication still five months away, wWhat does Honeyman hope readers will take away from the novel? “That kindness doesn’t need to be some massive philanthropic Bill Gates-style donation. Tiny little acts for the right person at the right time can be transformative.”

Honeyman joins a growing band of novelists – the likes of Claire Fuller, Kate Hamer and Joanna Cannon – who subvert the fascination with literary wunderkinds, and I wonder how she feels about publishing her first novel at 45? “It’s one of those jobs where the more life experience you have, the better – so it’s absolutely not a handicap to be older. Look at Diana Athill. A bit of perspective and life experience isn’t a bad thing. Anyway, if you start a new career at 40, you’ve still got another 35 years to go.” HB

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Finewill be published by HarperCollins on 18 May

Beth Underdown: ‘There are edges of our minds that don’t belong to the daylight’

A footnote, a great uncle, and her hometown near Pendle combined to inspire this writer’s debut, set among East Anglia’s infamous witch trials

Inspiration takes many forms, but Beth Underdown’s route into writing about Matthew Hopkins, the notorious “Witchfinder General” immortalised on film by Vincent Price, is particularly striking. She was reading about 17th-century midwifery – unusual in itself, given that she was neither historian nor academic – when she came across him in a footnote, and suddenly found herself sucked into his world. “Something chimed with me about it,” she tells me, as we sit in her publisher’s office on the Strand. “All of this history that isn’t really taught, and isn’t really known about. You spend all your childhood looking at Vikings…” She’s right: we have an image of Cavaliers and Roundheads in our mind, but they are somehow less familiar to us than the Tudors or Victorians. And yet, as Underdown points out, the country was gripped by seismic change in the 17th century: “They thought the world was ending.” England was in turmoil, taking “lurching, imperfect steps” towards trying to find a new way, culminating in what Underdown memorably describes as “basically like the protest vote, but with swords”.

At the same time, women were not passive. Hundreds of midwives massed outside parliament to protest that not enough babies were being born because so many men were away fighting, and violent politics permeated even the most domestic of scenes; Underdown found a commonplace book in which a woman had noted the execution of an archbishop next to worries over a colicky baby. And, as the activities of Matthew Hopkins and others demonstrate, women were as vulnerable as ever to being singled out as disruptive, sinister forces.

The Witchfinder’s Sister takes a sideways look at Hopkins, whose determination to root out East Anglia’s “witches” in the 1640s led to a reign of terror that saw hundreds of women die. But Underdown was interested in what allowed Hopkins to flourish, and to that end invented for him a sister, Alice, who has returned to the Essex family home in unconscionable circumstances: pregnant and without husband. What fascinated Underdown was the question of Alice’s complicity in her brother’s sadistic and misogynistic quest, and her attempts to subvert it: “The idea of what makes somebody stand by while something happens is, in a way, scarier. Because Matthew is there, and of course terrifying, but you’re always going to have people like Matthew: and a huge amount depends on what the bystanders do.”

It wasn’t simply that footnote that turned Underdown on to the period: she was brought up near Pendle, scene of one of the most famous witch trials in English history. And there is also a family connection: her great uncle, David Underdown, was a distinguished English civil war historian, who spent most of his career teaching in the States. Because he was absent, Underdown wasn’t much aware of him until he was diagnosed with cancer and came back to Britain to visit. “I remember thinking, wow, cool guy. And he’d come because he thought he was going to die imminently, I suppose, but he didn’t - and he did this goodbye visit every year for about 10 years. It was great. On one of those visits – I was about 17 – he gave me his book.”

She put it aside. Years passed and she moved to London, starting working as an editorial assistant in publishing. She also began to write, getting up at 5am for a stint before the office; but she lacked a subject, and writing about contemporary life wasn’t working. She certainly didn’t want to write anything autobiographical: “I feel like quite a dull person. I’m not the staying up all night and going to literary salons type. I go to bed at 10. So I don’t want to write about me. That’s boring. There’s all this world out there that’s amazing.”

She picked her great-uncle’s book from the shelf, and was impressed by his “very human approach… The book is about this big fire in Dorchester during the English civil war, and it’s looking in detail at ordinary townspeople, digging through parish records – who’s been hauled up for brawling, and who’s been fined for not going to church – and thinking about their experience on an ordinary level. I hadn’t read a lot of history that was like that.” She began to read more widely in the period, and eventually came across Hopkins, and a whole world of religious mania, superstition and persecution that gripped her: “I like to think I’m a rational person,” she says, “but I pray on aeroplanes – I promise I’ll be good if the plane lands safely. I think a lot of people are like that. There are edges of our minds that don’t belong to the daylight.”

A period of ill health slowed her down but it also intensified her interest in the way women’s bodies are looked at and medicalised. Now recovered, she teaches at the University of Manchester’s Centre for New Writing, and is embarked on her second novel, a move away from the 17th century but still firmly set in the past. Which, in her hands, is not so much another country but very recognisably our own. AC

The Witchfinder’s Sister is published by Viking on 2 March (£12.99). To preorder a copy for £11.04 go to bookshop.theguardian.com or call 0330 333 6846. Free UK p&p over £10, online orders only. Phone orders min p&p of £1.99

Sally Rooney: ‘I had to walk out of my job to force myself to finish it’

The 25-year-old Dublin graduate stormed out of her restaurant job… and wrote a novel that started a bidding war

When I meet Sally Rooney, she has just come from her Observer photoshoot and has the air of someone trying to remain calm and process what is happening to her. How was it, I ask. “Mortifying,” she replies, then quickly corrects herself. “Listen to me complaining! Oh, it’s so terrible getting my photo taken to promote my first novel.” She pulls a face. “I know this doesn’t actually count as a problem.”

She might be forgiven for feeling some shellshock. Rooney, a Dubliner, is just 25, and her debut, Conversations with Friends, sold to Faber last April after a seven-way auction among publishers. Rights have been sold in 12 countries; the deal was, she says, enough that she now doesn’t have to work “for a couple of years”. Faber’s Mitzi Angel describes her as a “phenomenal talent”, a Martin Amis or Jay McInerney for the Snapchat generation. The change in her life has, she says, been “so colossal that I almost haven’t been able to react”.

Until late 2015, Rooney was doing an admin job in a restaurant while she tried to work out what to do with her life after graduating with a master’s degree in American literature from Trinity College. She had been writing “failed novels” since she was in her teens, and while at university had a short story published in Winter Papers, an anthology edited by Kevin Barry and Olivia Smith, and an essay in the Dublin Review.

Then one day she received an email from Tracy Bohan, of the Wylie Agency. “She had seen my story and wondered whether I had anything else she could read.” Rooney had the first draft of what was to become Conversations with Friends. “But I didn’t send her anything for ages,” she says. “I don’t know why. I didn’t want her to see this shoddy draft.”

What she did, however, was to walk out on the restaurant job. “I came in one day and somebody had left a note on my desk, just a list of things I needed to do that day. I thought the tone was a bit snippy. So I did this really quite dramatic walk-out.” She laughs. “I don’t know why I didn’t just send them an email.”

Perhaps she had to make it impossible for herself to go back? “Yes, I think that’s it. I had to really mess it up and leave myself no choice but to finish the book.”

She worked on the draft until March, and then sent it to Bohan. From her response, Rooney realised there was a real possibility it would be published. “It’s really weird. You’ve been locked away working on this thing, and suddenly you start thinking about, like, your mum reading it.”

Rooney cites Salinger as a key influence, and that is evident in Conversations With Friends, which combines poise with emotional acuity. It tells the story of Frances, a 21-year-old aspiring writer, and her best friend (and erstwhile girlfriend) Bobbi. The pair have been inseparable since school, but their relationship is forced to change when Frances begins a passionate, turbulent relationship with Nick, an older married man.

Rooney is, she says, interested in “ambiguous relationships”, those which resist neat labels like “girlfriend”, “friend”, “gay” or “straight”. Ambiguity is a word that comes up several times during our conversation. Rooney was involved in competitive debating at university, and was the top speaker at the European University Debating Championships in 2013. The skill set, she says, is fundamentally the same: “exploring concepts in language”. However, debating is structured around binary choices: “there is no ambiguous position. And I think that might actually have helped me to critique that approach.”

The book is coming out in June, and Rooney has finally taken the plunge and sent it to her mother. What did she make of it? “I don’t know. I’m kind of waiting for that curt two-line email: I read your book.” The last few months have certainly been quite a journey for Rooney. And I have no doubt that this is just the beginning. AO

Conversations With Friends will be published by Faber in June

Nuala Ellwood: ‘Angelina Jolie would be my top choice to play my heroine, Kate’

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