Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo dust off their Bridesmaids bona fides for a strange sketch-comedy stretched surreally to feature length.
A decade after their 2011 hit film Bridesmaids, Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo are back as co-writers and costars in Barb and Star Go To Vista Del Mar. Their new comedy romp follows Barb (Wiig) and Star (Mumolo), two Midwestern middle-aged suburbanite gal-pals looking to get “their shimmer back” on a trip to the ocean oasis of Vista Del Mar. The wide-eyed duo discovers sea-shell bracelets, hooks up with mysterious Edgar (Jamie Dornan), and accidentally becomes embedded in a murder plot involving super mosquitos. Barb and Star Go To Vista Del Mar plays like a five minute SNL sketch that stretches into an hour and forty-five fever dream peppered with talking crabs, musical numbers, and culottes.
Wiig and Mumolo have great comedic chemistry as Barb and Star, the culotte fans with a penchant for hot-dog soup. They play off each other with gusto, committing hard to their characters of Barb and Star with corny Midwestern accents, sensible shoes, and coifed hairstyles created with rollers and a hefty spritz of Aquanet. They’re best friends who work together at the “hottest store in town” (Jennifer Convertibles, a furniture store) in Soft Rock, Nebraska. They’ve also loved and lost, and find themselves as roommates in a cozy yet unadventurous life. When they lose their jobs, they embark on a girls’ trip to the beach town of Vista Del Mar, setting them on a journey of self-discovery.
One of the best tricks of Barb and Star is casting Dornan as Edgar, the hunky man of mystery who catches Barb and Star’s gaze. I applaud that Wiig and Mumolo use Dornan, who’s best known for playing Christian Grey in the Fifty Shades franchise, as their eye candy. They’re flipping the script on what’s often portrayed in male-led comedies: the schlubby older male lead romancing an attractive younger woman. Finally, middle-aged women in culottes get to seduce a younger hunk! However, even this hilarious love triangle isn’t enough to fully entertain the audience for an hour and forty-five minutes.
Adding to the outrageousness is an evil villain subplot that follows Sharon Gordon Fisherman (Wiig in a blunt black bob and pale white make-up) as she concocts a plan to destroy her Vista Del Mar at the town’s annual Seafood Jam, coincidentally the same time as Barb and Star’s vacation. This plot involves murderous mosquitoes, a child sidekick named Yoyo (Reyn Doi), and lovesick Edgar, who starts out pining after Sharon as she strings him along to help enact her revenge. She’s a character who appears to exist simply because Wiig and Mumolo needed an antagonist, so why not have Wiig vamp it up? These superfluous scenes distract from the core relationship and don’t add anything other than filler to get Barb and Star to feature length.
Barb and Star is directed by Josh Greenbaum, whose career is an eclectic mix of sitcoms like New Girl and Fresh Off the Boat and documentaries like Becoming Bond and Too Funny to Fail: The Life and Death of the Dana Carvey Show. Greenbaum has mentioned in interviews that he wanted the film to “feel like a vacation for people visually.” Well, there are visuals aplenty, between slapstick comedy (Barb and Star grinding up to Edgar on the dance floor), campy action thrills (Fisherman scheming in her secret underground lair), and surprising musical numbers (Edgar prancing and singing to seagulls on the beach about his love life). Unfortunately, the whirling-dervish tones mean the final result feels less like a smooth vacation and more like a confusing, booze-fogged layover.
Barb and Star Go To Vista Del Mar doesn’t take itself too seriously, and Wiig, Mumolo, and Dornan commit hard to their characters onscreen, and there are more than a few double-take-worthy celebrity cameos. For those of us quarantining in tight pods, we might feel some catharsis when Barb and Star start to discover their separate selves after living as a secluded duo for so long. Time will tell if the film rises to the cult-comedy status. For now, if you do decide to embark on the journey that is Barb and Star Go To Vista Del Mar, I’d recommend strapping in like you’re Barb and Star getting ready to go on a banana boat: sip some cocktails, dress comfortably, and brace yourself because it’s one heck of a ride.
Barb and Star Go To Vista Del Mar parks its car where you are (in theaters) February 12th.