‘Barb and Star Go To Vista Del Mar’ review: the glory in being gaudy
“Bridesmaids” alums Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo show the reward in committing to the bit in their new tropical getaway epic.
Apr 21, 2021
Embracing the absurd isn’t a new concept to comedy power duo Annie Mumolo and Kristen Wiig — it’s a lifestyle. They’ve been frequent collaborators since their days in the Groundlings improv troupe. Now, they’re back to prove their cinematic finesse once again, after having worked together on films like “Bridesmaids,” with the SPF-soaked Florida farce “Barb and Star Go To Vista Del Mar.”
Starring Wiig and Mumolo as the titular Barb and Star, the film, also written by the duo, tracks the two middling yet eternally chipper divorcees from Nebraska after they lose their dream jobs working at a furniture outlet. This puts a slight damper on their ever-bright moods, with feathered hairdos to match, but when their power-walking neighbor tells them about her recent trip to Vista Del Mar, the ladies excitedly pack up their array of tchotchkes to go on the adventure of a lifetime.
What prevents these seemingly SNL-esque caricatures from wearing out their welcome isn’t the jokes that they tell, but the style in which they’re delivered. Mumolo and Wiig have such a clear, earnest understanding of Midwestern hum-drum (with the unwavering accents to match) that you can’t help but smile as the women prattle on about banal topics like Mr. Peanut or their admiration of all women named “Trish” — a conversation that takes up their entire flight.
When the duo finally arrive at their new pastel oasis, The Palm Vista Hotel, they’re greeted with a choreographed dance number that involves all the toothy kitsch that one would expect from Florida, America’s punchline state. Barb and Star gawk at the display as if it was the start to the spiritual journey they’ve been waiting their entire lives for. And for a while, it is.
The women splash in chlorinated pools and suck down neon cocktails as they excitedly plan itineraries full of shopping for tacky souvenirs and a very revered ride in the banana boat. However, their happy-go-lucky attitudes eventually serve as the perfect contrast to the nefarious force hiding just below the town’s dingy surface. This nefarious force takes the form of a powder-white woman named Sharon Gordon Fisherman (also played by Wiig) who’s been plotting her revenge against the citizens of Vista Del Mar in her retro-futuristic lair since they ostracized her as a child.
Sharon’s scheme is to release a swarm of killer mosquitos at the town’s annual summer carnival. But she can’t go into Florida’s blazing sunshine without having a severe allergic reaction. So, Sharon enlists airy henchman Edgar (played brilliantly by Jamie Dornan), her lovelorn simp of many years, to carry out the job in exchange for her love.
Edgar ends up becoming the crux of the film as Dornan is surprisingly able to hold his own beside comedy greats. His emotions run high as he accidentally has a ménage à trois with Barb and Star after a wild night at the hotel. He even breaks into a hammy beachside ballad and acrobatic routine as Sharon grows more distant. Edgar’s good looks also cause a rupture between Barb and Star as they both simultaneously fall for him, effectively raising the fairly low stakes and testing their chummy dynamic.
Though wholly enjoyable, “Barb and Star” certainly isn’t a film that tests the boundaries of comedy. Its frivolous demeanor sometimes wanes during the nearly two-hour runtime. Depending on your tolerance for shmaltz, you might not even make it that far.
But the unabashed stupidity here isn’t something to sneer at. Mumolo and Wiig’s screenplay is brazen as it leaves no comedic stone unturned. There’s a constant smorgasburg of gags that satirize the well meaning American tourist, including (but certainly not limited to): a lounge singer who only croons about “boobies,” Morgan Freeman as a talking crab and an unwavering love of your aunt’s favorite stretchy pants — culottes. Every inch of the budget is so greatly utilized that probably anyone can find at least one thing to giggle about.
Although the Midwestern camp is palpable, nothing within this film feels mean-spirited. Despite some raunchy material, Mumolo and Wiig are the connoisseurs of pleasantry, proving that adult comedies don’t have to be alienating or tepidly childish. And why should they be? It’s refreshing to see characters so realized in a colorful alternate universe so free of cliche. The myriad of bright moments that this film’s zany confidence provides can’t help but make this viewer wonder: what stops other comedies from committing?
Overall, “Barb and Star Go To Vista Del Mar” is a film that could only have been made by master comedians. It’s not necessarily thought-provoking, but it is ridiculous and consistently glee-inspiring. This movie proves that the mid-budget comedy should consider staying in Vista Del Mar for a while.
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