As I giggled my way through Barb & Star Go To Vista Del Mar, the Bridesmaids follow-up by co-writers Annie Mumolo and Kristen Wiig (who also star), I realized that it feels like an awfully long time since a silly—almost to a surrealistic level of ridiculousness—mainstream movie got released at this level. Granted, Barb & Star was meant to come out theatrically last summer (and what a joy it would have been to see this with a crowd) and it’s now being release via VOD, but a comedy with this pedigree and relative comedic talent attached hasn’t hit any release platform in quite some time. It felt good to allow the silliness to infect my brain and rule the day. Do all the jokes land? Of course not. When a movie hurls this many jokes and absurd situations at you, some are bound to miss the mark. But quite a few hit it, as well.
Barb & Star centers on lifelong friends played by Mumolo and Wiig, just a couple of middle-aged, midwestern gals who decide to leave their small town for the first time (I don’t think we’re ever told exactly where they’re from, but it’s somewhere where the accents are thick and the culottes are plentiful). Barb is a widow while Star’s husband left her, leaving her thinking that men are disgusted by her. But she’s somehow fine with that because she now lives and works with her best pal. When the ladies get let go from their jobs (actually the chain they work for went out of business months earlier, but someone forgot to alert their boss), they suddenly have time to go on their first-ever vacation, based on a recommendation from another friend (played by Bridesmaids vet Wendi McLendon-Covey).
Life in their town isn’t looking so great anyway, especially after they get booted from their “talking club,” which is like a book club but with random talking points picked out of a hat. It’s an excruciating exercise, led by Vanessa Bayer and featuring members played by Fortune Feimster and Phyllis Smith. So Barb and Star head for the fictional Florida locale of Vista Del Mar, featuring sand, surf, fruity drinks, and an assortment of kiosks selling junk to tourists, all of which the ladies just adore.
The parallel storyline throughout the movie concerns a villainous plot to kill everyone in Vista Del Mar hatched by a character identified in the credits as “Sharon Gordon Fisherman” (also played by Wiig, almost unrecognizable, but resembling in no small amount, several extreme Tilda Swinton characters). She has a boy toy/right-hand man named Edgar (Jamie Dornan, Fifty Shades films), whom she is stringing along with the promise of being a serious couple if he carries out her plan, one that involves releasing poisonous hordes of mosquitos in Vista Del Mar—a plot to get revenge for something that happened to the alarmingly pale villainess when she was a girl. Edgar arrives in town with murder on his mind when he meets Barb and Star, and the three get blazingly drunk leading to a night of three-way bliss. The action is (thankfully) left unseen; the morning-after image had me howling, however.
At different points during the next day, both women attempt to connect with Edgar, with Star having better luck and launching a clandestine love affair with the strapping but vulnerable gentleman. Thinking Star is sick in bed, Barb embarks on her own secret adventures, occasionally feeling guilty about all the fun she’s having without Star, but still marveling at what she can accomplish on her own. None of this sneaking around has stopped Edgar from going forward with his plans, which include getting a microchip from a very bad fellow spy (played by Damon Wayans Jr., who’s a bit useless in this movie). That being said, the James Bond-ish elements of Barb & Star are some of my favorite aspects of the movie, so imagine my surprise when I noticed that the director of the film is one Josh Greenbaum, a television vet of such shows as “New Girl” and “Fresh Off the Boat,” but also the filmmaker behind a great documentary of former Bond actor George Lazenby, Becoming Bond. So Greenbaum has a great love for spy thrillers and sends them up rather skillfully here.
The film has hilarious musical numbers, an almost obscene color palette, a shaman-like crab with a familiar voice, and heaps of midwest charm that will likely feel very familiar and may make you want to plug your ears for minutes at a time. But it also has a glorious friendship at its core, one between two women who basically share a brain—there’s a sequence on the plane ride to Florida where they begin a story of a fictional person that lasts the entire journey to the hotel that must be heard to be believed. There are weird side stories (mostly for Barb), so bizarre that I began to question my comprehension of the film at all. And my reaction was always the same, as I stated at the top of this review: I didn’t know people still made movies like this, but thank goodness they do because to be honest, I needed to get silly for a couple hours, more than I realized.
The film is now available on VOD.
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