A genuinely silly 1980s-style comedy from Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo
Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar is, like its name, highly silly. And silly is a mood that movies lately totally underuse. The best parts of this musical comedy, written by stars Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo and directed by Josh Greenbaum, harken back to the cinematic apex of silliness, the 1980s. It tips its pineapple-festooned beach visor at visual gag classics like Top Secret! and the physical humor of Three Amigos and the absurdism of Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure and the showily fake critter in Caddyshack. Only there’s none of the sexist, racist and homophobic stuff from back in the day. Huzzah!
BARB AND STAR GO TO VISTA DEL MAR
Directed by: Josh Greenbaum
Written by: Annie Mumolo, Kristen Wiig
Starring: Kristen Wiig, Annie Mumolo, Jamie Dornan
Running time: 107 min
Wiig and Mumolo, the title characters, are middle-aged besties in a Midwestern town. Wiig’s Star, with her tight perm and giggly excitability, could be a relative of Sue, her sweater-wearing SNL character who was completely undone by the promise of a surprise. Barb and Star live together, their respective husbands having left the picture, and they work together at a Jennifer Convertibles, existing in a contented bubble of nonstop, Midwestern-accented chitchat. When the store closes, a new lease on life beckons in Florida vacation spot Vista Del Mar, from which a friend (Wendi McLendon-Covey, never not funny) has just returned and raved about the hot, Tommy Bahama-sporting men and the 24-hour CVS.
In another ’80s flourish, a supervillain (also Wiig) schemes in an underground lair about annihilating the Florida town with killer mosquitoes, with the help of her henchmen, a tween paperboy (Reyn Doi) and Jamie Dornan. He’s Edgar, an assassin who’s dying for his boss to make the two of them an official couple. (The number of times Dornan says “official couple” in this movie is one of my favorite bits.)
Dornan isn’t the best actor–I think the power of Gillian Anderson must have raised his game astronomically in The Fall–but he’s having so much more fun here than his pained performance in the Fifty Shades movies, it’s infectious. In Vista Del Mar, Edgar intersects with Barb and Star, ends up in a drug-fueled, saxophone-playing threeway with them, and does a musical ballad wherein he sings at seagulls, does leaping splits on the beach, and rips his shirt off to emote in the ocean. All of the musical numbers here are winners. I also particularly enjoyed the piano stylings of one Richard Cheese, a real lounge singer who serenades Barb and Star’s hotel buffet line with “I Love Boobies.”
At its core, this is a feature-length sketch about Wiig and Mumolo doing frump cosplay at the beach. While I suppose you could take them to task for mocking middle-aged Midwestern ladies- “You could model for effin’ Chicos!”, one says to the other – my overall sense is they have a lot of genuine affection for Barb and Star and their billowy culottes and inexplicable obsession with the name Trish. They also write Barb and Star as delightfully horny in a way that’s never a punchline about older women.
As a writing team, the friends, who first worked together at Groundlings, are drawn to goofiness; Wiig told the New York Times that an early version of their Oscar-nominated Bridesmaids screenplay had a lot more of that vein of humor in it. Wiig is a comic genius who’s always been at her best playing eccentrics, from her SNL run to movies like The Skeleton Twins and Welcome to Me (while the less said about Wonder Woman 1984, the better). It’s nice to see Mumolo finally get her turn in the spotlight, too. Wiig gets the romantic plotline, which I guess was inevitable, but I really enjoyed Barb’s empowerment journey, which includes a labia piercing and a spiritual run-in with Tommy Bahama himself, played by an actor who’s an inspired choice.
Damon Wayans also shows up as a bumbling spy, and Reba McEntire in another cameo I won’t spoil, and there’s a talking crab named Morgan Freemand (“with a d”), and it’s all great fun. Full disclosure: I have reached the point in this pandemic where I’m just grateful for any content that’s remotely uplifting. True crime is so 2020. Bring on the Barbs and Stars for this, the winter of our effin’ discontent.