Watching Barb & Star Go To Vista Del Mar reminded me of a conversation I had in 2013 with double Oscar-winning serious acTOR, writer and British national treasure Dame Emma Thompson (name drop clang) about silliness after I told her how silly I thought the film I was about to interview her about (Joel Hopkins’ The Love Punch) was, while assuring her that I meant it as a compliment. She took the comment in the spirit with which it was intended and we had a good chat about how some of the most acclaimed and beloved comedy like Monty Python and Fawlty Towers is pretty darn silly. That’s not to say that Barb & Star quite reaches that level of comedy gold, but it ranks pretty high in the silly comedy stakes, and just because it’s silly that shouldn’t mean that it’s dismissed or underrated. Silly comedy is hard to pull off successfully and Annie Mumolo and Kristen Wiig’s screenplay (their first together since their Oscar-nominated Bridesmaids), paired with their entirely committed, sometimes hilarious lead performances, mostly achieves what it sets out to do. After all sophisticated or twisted dark comedy might put an appreciative smile on our faces, but, let’s face it laughing out loud at our screens tends to come from fart jokes.
We meet the endearingly clueless and unfailingly sincere middle-aged Midwesterners and lifelong friends Barb (Annie Mumolo) and Star (Kristen Wiig) as they unexpectedly lose their jobs at “the hottest place in town”, homeware store, Jennifer Convertibles. Already feeling lost, the pair is later barred from their weekly ‘talking club’ group (filled with familiar faces like Vanessa Bayer and Fortune Feimster), so decide to take the plunge and leave their hometown of Soft Rock, Nebraska for the first time ever for a trip to Florida’s Vista Del Mar. It comes highly recommended by their slightly hipper pal Mickey (Wendi McLendon-Covey) who describes her recent vacation to the resort as a “soul-douche”, not to mention it has a 24-hour CVS. Meanwhile an intensely pale super villain, Sharon Gordon Fisherman (also played by Wiig), is plotting from her underground lair to kill the entire population of a town where she was once ridiculed as a child. That town just happens to be, yes, you’ve guessed it Vista Del Mar, where she sends the doting Edgar (Jamie Dornan) who’s in love with her and longs for them to be an “official couple”, to do her dirty work.
Wiig and Mumolo have created two intensely appealing, immaculately well-coiffed, characters for themselves in Barb and Star and the pair riff off each other brilliantly. They are the kind of characters that would work in an SNL skit but in the hands of Wiig and Mumolo they sustain well for the span of the movie, and the film is at its best when solely focused on them. Although there is some fun to be had from it, the super villain plot felt unnecessary and I couldn’t help but think that the film would have benefitted had that more cartoonish and less successfully sustained plot strand been jettisoned entirely in favour of spending more time with the central characters as they let loose on vacation. As Edgar arrives at the resort to carry out Sharon’s dastardly plan, he encounters the two vacationers allowing for a farcical hotel bedroom comedy of errors to unfurl. Without being explicit, the script is refreshingly sex positive, celebrating female pleasure. Dornan makes a great straight man (though that doesn’t stop us fantasising) to the more heightened, outrageous antics of Barb and Star. He also proves his own comedy chops including in one fabulously cheesy and rather catchy musical sequence on the beach surrounded by seagulls, complete with a shirt-ripping moment, and comically literal lyrics that’d likely do well at Eurovision. Funny aside, it’s also impressive vocally (Dornan was in the duo Sons of Jim). Talking of music, the film opens with a blinding power ballad lip-sync by Sharon’s young henchman Yoyo (Reyn Doi) on a mischievous paper round that would no doubt impress Mother Ru herself and there’s an energetic and delightfully kooky old Hollywood musical style show-stopper that greets Barb and Star when they first arrive in at their hotel.
Come for the piña coladas and 24 -hour CVS, stay for the “tit-flapping” banana boat rides, the Math Club dance version of My Heart Will Go On, musings from a philosophical talking crab (see we told you it was silly), and the adorable Barb and Star. In fact I’m already looking forward to their next vacation.
By James Kleinmann
Barb & Star Go To Vista Del Mar premieres everywhere you rent movies February 12th 2021.