‘Barb and Star Go To Vista Del Mar’ Reunites Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo for a Gleefully Absurd Adventure
“Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar” makes no attempt to take itself too seriously or justify its existence beyond the sheer desire to bring out the laughs. The screenplay alone has the manic energy of a confetti explosion of goofy ideas, furiously typed into Final Draft with its writers, who happen to be its stars, sporting big smiles. It is indeed the latest collaboration from Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo, their first in a decade since getting Oscar-nominated for “Bridesmaids.” Be warned, this is not a film for the pretentious. It works best if you like candy-colored resorts, killer mosquitos and nostalgic sea crabs who narrate their existence like Morgan Freeman.
Barb (Mumolo) and Star (Wiig) are best friends in middle age. Both divorced long ago from their husbands and live together and even work together at the same furniture store, where they share secrets over the same couch every day. Alas, the store closes when their manager reveals the company went bust months ago and never bothered to inform them. Distraught, Barb and Star decide it is finally time they throw caution to the wind and go on vacation. The best option seems to be Vista Del Mar in Florida. Bags packed and resort hotel booked, the two friends fly expecting sunny beaches and lavish getaways. But temptation strikes when the two ladies meet Edgar (Jamie Dornan), a hunk also staying at the same hotel. After a night of debauchery they’re both smitten and left competing for Edgar. What they don’t realize is that Edgar is there on a mission to unleash a deadly swarm of killer mosquitos designed by his true love, Sharon Gordon Fisherman (Wiig), a pale-skinned villain haunted by how the town humiliated her during a food festival as a teenager.
Directing duties go to Josh Greenbaum, who has mostly done television and goes for pure visual playfulness. The screenplay by Wiig and Mumolo borrows from vacation movies and even spy thrillers, mixing it all up into an anti-ageist romp. However the opening scenes would fool you into thinking you’ve started watching an “Austin Powers”-style parody. Villain Sharon is a ghostly-faced menace determined to destroy Vista Del Mar with the help of Edgar and Yoyo (Reyn Doi), a child henchman dressed like a James Bond assassin. Sharon’s rage stems from the one-time she was accidentally crowned queen of Del Mar’s big annual food fest, but was jettisoned through a big cannon into a cruise ship, where her naked paleness brought nothing but humiliation. Edgar loves her, but she refuses to make it “official.” Edgar hasn’t learned, whether dealing with a super villain or not, to realize when you’re being led on.
By comparison Barb and Star’s story could be a whole other movie. But in a strange, creative way both meld together entertainingly enough. They become middle-aged heroines proving they can still feel adventurous and sexy. The movie even has time to morph into a musical with charmingly colorful and whacky numbers like “Palm Vista Hotel,” where a hotel worker croons that the pool has chlorine. Richard Cheese appears as a lounge-singer singing “I Love Boobies” (which Wiig and Mumolo submitted for Oscar consideration). Jamie Dornan almost steals the show with a solo tune, “Edgar’s Prayer,” where he wanders the beach, conflicted about falling for Star, singing his woes to any seagull that will listen. Dornan brings an over-the-top ‘80s power ballad spirit to the whole affair, doing a better job expressing vulnerability than in “Fifty Shades of Grey.” He also seems to be having genuine fun with Wiig and Mumolo, playing the temptation that spoils their buddying trip. Edgar and Star start having a full summer fling, eating ice cream cones by the beach after fun sex while Barb is left exploring the resort’s other pleasures, like surfing.
What makes “Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar” is its unique hybrid combo of genres which then lead to one hilarious scene after another. Wiig and Mumolo turn Barb and Star into hyperactive riffs on suburban women, played with the kind of gusto that makes you wonder if this whole film was designed as an escape for them as much as for the audience. Satire is also splashed around. Early on we see Barb and Star’s social life consists of attending the “Talking Club,” a group of local women who really just get together to talk. But if you’re caught lying, it means automatic expulsion. Vista Del Mar then becomes a hallucinatory escape where everything is splashed in Caribbean blues and pinks. Sipping on a giant blue drink could lead to a drugged out night and yes, there is a moment where Morgan Freeman seems to inhabit the body of a crab waiting for the end with a wise, PBS-worthy voiceover. Before this trip is over submarines operated by Yoyo and killer bee antidotes are also tossed in with absolute glee.
“Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar” celebrates the kind of zany humor that doesn’t try too hard or too little. American comedy tends to either get too self-conscious or resorts to easy raunch fare as a go-to when the writer runs out of gas. Wiig and Mumolo’s penis jokes here even sound like a sly way of making fun of penis jokes themselves. But even that might be reading too much into it. This film is a vacation designed as a getaway for the viewer. Originally slated for a theatrical release, it actually makes more sense that “Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar” is now having a VOD-only release. With many of us still in perpetual quarantine, movies that are all about colors and silly humor provide some momentary brightness to a world still feeling very grey.
“Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar” releases Feb. 12 on VOD.