“A couple of pathetic Stellas trying to get their groove back.”
Looking at the trailer for Barb & Star Go to Vista Del Mar, one would think that the movie is a one-joke premise that asks its audience to spend the better part of two hours looking at just how silly and naive the two main characters are. Even though the title promises that we will follow said characters to a vacation destination, the laughs elicited will still come from the same source, namely just how kooky these two ladies are and how even kookier they are outside of their comfort zone. The movie’s marketing sells this to perfection without letting on about the zaniness contained within. While the movie does indeed follow through with the premise it offers up, it also launches its audience into an unsuspecting parade of gags of all kinds, including a diabolical paperboy, celebrity cameos, dance numbers and a ballet prancing Jamie Dornan in what ends up being one of the early surprises of 2021 and a testament to the powers of trailer marketing.
In Barb & Star Go to Vista Del Mar, Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo play the titular characters; a pair of lifelong friends who have seen each other through everything, but have never had the courage to venture outside of their safe small-town world. Following a friend’s suggestion, the pair decide to head to Vista Del Mar, Florida for a week of fun in the sun where they meet the handsome Edgar (Dornan) and find an adventure unlike any they’ve experienced before.
Anyone remembering the two lead’s previous collaboration, 2011’s Bridesmaids (and who doesn’t), will find themselves in that same comedy vein as this film (scripted by the leads) offers up plenty of gags which call to mind that film’s level of humor, which took the real world and mixed it with a touch of madcap. Here, one such moment occurs when Barb and Star overhear Edgar comment to the bar tender that he’s in room #611, causing them to exclaim riotously that they’re in #124 as if it’s the biggest coincidence they’ve had in some time, which it probably is. There’s also the sequence featuring the “talking club” Barb and Star belong to where them and their friends (including Vanessa Bayer and Phyllis Smith) sit around, eat hot dog soup and talk about pre-picked topics which come out of a jar, such as “jobs.” But it’s the friendship between the two ladies which makes this side of the movie feel both grounded and funny thanks to the banter they share, which includes surprising each other with things totally unworthy of as much shock and awe as they are given by them. An early example of this sees Barb showing up at her and Star’s place of work even though it’s her day off, only to realize Star has done the same because they both wanted to hang out together…even though they’re roommates.
That level of down-to-earth wackiness is all well and good, but it quickly becomes overshadowed when Barb & Star launches into full on absurdity. As soon as the ladies arrive at their upscale hotel, the movie launches into sheer lunacy with one random and insane gag after another, most of which do nothing for the plot whatsoever, but still prove amusing in their own right. There’s Barb unburdening her third act movie woes to a beach crab voiced by Morgan Freeman, who pronounces his last name as “Freemond” as he launches into the many lives he’s spent on earth (namely a brief rundown of the many characters the actor has played) before narrating his own death as he heads into the ocean. Damon Wayans Jr. turns up playing a totally inept spy and Richard Cheese enjoys a few fun appearances as the hotel’s pianist singing songs about “boobies,” among other things. However the most “go for broke” element of Barb & Star has to be that of Sharon (also played by Wiig), Edgar’s love interest and an evil mastermind who has sent him to the vacation spot in order to exact revenge on her behalf. Covered in white makeup and a Velma Kelly bob, this sub-plot takes things to the surreal with the character existing in a world just as certifiable and hilarious as the main characters themselves.
Wiig and Mumolo are both riots as Barb and Star. It’s hard to evaluate their performances on their own since the two of them work as such a wonderful comedic unit with impeccable timing and chemistry for days. Wiig has the heavier job of the two, however. Not only does she warm hearts as Star, but as the vengeful Sharon the actress goes to town with a level of campy evil mixed with awkward humor that really makes the character work. Dornan, meanwhile, shows off a genuine knack for comedy, earning laughs in his own right as he plunges head first into the comedy mishmash Wiig and Mumolo have created.
Wiig and Mumolo do have something fun and worthwhile here. Barb & Star Go to Vista Del Mar is the kind of mainstream, mid-level studio comedy that was ripe in the 90s, but has sadly become a thing of the past. While these ladies have proved such a movie can flourish even in 2021, it’s not without some faults. Although the comedy largely works, it’s two disparate tones hinder the movie more than help it. The movie is Zucker and Abrahams/Austin Powers on one side and The Office/SNL on the other; all filtered through Wiig’s and Mumolo’s sensibilities. The thing is that they both work; and work pretty well…on their own. Together however, the two sides cram far too many jokes and comedy styles that Barb & Star (both the characters and their movie) eventually becomes a little more than overwhelming. Ultimately Barb & Star feels very much like any fun vacation a person takes; while a good time was had, it’s tough to remember anything but the highlights.