Published on February 18th, 2021 | by Noah Dimitrie0
Barb and Star Go To Vista Del Mar
Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo (Bridesmaids) star in this silly but wonderfully inspired comedy about a couple of spinsters who just won’t stop gabbing.
Barb and Star Go To Vista Del Mar…The humor of its title lies within its sort of meta straightforwardness. This movie is obsessed with its alliterative in-jokes. Their usage within the title only serves to characterize this quirky little movie even further. In fact, its title is really some kind of weird thesis statement for the whole film. It’s all in there…the cheeky rhyme scheme, the purposefully plain names of the protagonists, the not-so-subtle bluntness with which it demonstrates its own elevator pitch. Luckily, the film is equally as efficient and straightforward as its name.
The devils in the details in this one, as Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo carry the film on their backs with inspired improvisations and cooky character work. Barb and Star are kind of walking ironies, these middle-aged cookie-cutter Better Home and Garden subscribers who host a gal-pal talking club yet serve their “famous” hot dog soup (its presented as egregiously disgusting). When they find out they’re being laid off from their jobs in which they just gab on the furniture they’re supposed to be selling, they decide to go on vacation to the illustrious Vista Del Mar, in which the cocktails forever flow and the shirtless middle-aged men are abundant. The inseparable pair find trouble when they get down there, and all the expected hijinks ensue. But it’s the rock-solid chemistry of the two leads that hold this movie together, as it refuses to lose sight of what makes them particularly charming in the first place.
Of course, it wouldn’t be a studio comedy if its weren’t for some contrived sense of danger and mayhem. In comes in the form of Sharon Gordon Fisherman (Kristen Wiig pulling double duty), a kind of diabolical albino with a rare skin condition and an absolutely criminal haircut. She has a plan to wreak havoc on the destination paradise using killer mosquitos to ruin the annual ShrimpFest. It’s the kind of high concept, shoe-horned stakes that typically infect these types of comedies, and mostly the outcome is predictable and unmoving. At the risk of sounding too cynical, I rolled my eyes when this subplot was introduced, letting out a jaded, “Here we go” as the dangerous trap is so blatantly laid. But while the film doesn’t quite shake that arbitrariness, it does bob and weave around it with more success than a lot of recent studio comedies.
This film works because it keeps its relatively small and quirky ethos intact. It’s ultimately a film about friendship, particularly the kind of middle-aged cohabitating that invokes the likes of Gil Faizon and George St. Geegland. All the other stuff is sort of just there for pure novelty sake. That novelty is fun and has its charms (the Jamie Dornan-led musical number is a real highlight), but it does play second fiddle to the real core of this film’s humor—relationships. You get the sense that the film works because Wiig and Mumolo are dear friends themselves, and they poor their friendship into this script like a thick dose of gravy alleviating the dryness of a roast beef. Serving as a kind of meta-text for the comedic duos own friendship, Barb and Star triumphs.
The film’s sense of humor has a tendency to lean on its Zucker Brothers-esque gags, often times dipping its toes into surreal water. I mentioned the musical sequence, but on top of that you have talking crabs who sound like Morgan Freeman, mermaids, culottes that serve as parachutes, killer mosquitos, etc. The film isn’t afraid to get weird, and that weirdness is mostly a welcome sight. Despite the titular duo being the central crux of the humor, the overall wackiness works on a level that is heavily dependant on your knowledge of previously beloved comedy capers. If you like Naked Gun spliced in with a little SNL-level character work, this is the movie for you.
This flick had to really win me over. I’m always fairly jaded about studio comedies and the ways they tend to bring everything down to a level of phony stakes and self-parody. This one isn’t quite exempt from that status, but it does dedicate itself to a consistent level of silliness that is to be admired. Plus, the chemistry of the two leads is outstanding, enough to make this a highly quotable experience. It possesses what most comedies try but fail to capture—a simplicity of character, a straightforwardness that allows the actors to just do their thing. This film, for all its goofiness, knows what it is at its heart. And that is the best attribute a comedy can have. It is destined to be a cult classic of sorts, or at least one of those gems that get write ups in their honor every so often enough to keep it relevant.