More bong rip than Bridesmaids, Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar is an overlong and uneven but appreciably bizarre and amusing romp from co-writers and co-stars Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo.
With musical interludes, talking crabs, magic culotte pants and literal embodiments of Tommy Bahama (played by an actor whose eventual closing credit is even a pretty funny joke), Barb and Star conjures a surprising stoner vibe, as well as surreal tangents a la Step Brothers, to counter the gal-pal echoes of Wiig and Mumolo’s 2011 sleeper hit. This will never match the cultural cache of Bridesmaids, especially not when it’s been shuffled to VOD services (starting today) after COVID-19 canceled its theatrical run. However, it also doesn’t feel eight hours long, it’s funnier beat for beat, and it’s the closest analog to a Saturday Night Live-inspired film we’re ever likely to see these days.
The titular characters would’ve fit right in on the sketch show 15 years ago — lifelong friends and fortysomething furniture saleswomen from Soft Rock, Nebraska, who are introduced lightly bobbing their bodies to Shania Twain. For fans of overcooked accents, Barb and Star’s Upper Midwest vocalics play like a double-tracked Moira Rose for 105 minutes, and there’s one fun scene where Mumolo strings together as many high-arched “R’ sounds as possible.
Mumolo plays Barb, a widow itching to escape the Plains States’ plain-Jane life and go on a trip, and Wiig is Star, a cuckquean convinced her body is now disgusting to all men. When they’re unceremoniously fired from their jobs but given a severance package, Barb and Star blow it on a vacation to the titular Florida oasis, packing culottes for every occasion, the all-important Chico’s catalog and plenty of curlers. Revealing the peculiarities that play out from there would be to poop this party. Suffice to say someone has set their sinister sites on Vista Del Mar, and only Barb and Star will be able to stop them.
It’s also an odyssey of self-worth and self-discovery for a pair of friends who have suppressed so much for so long but also become one another’s worst enablers. Mumolo and Wiig’s script creates just the right undercurrent of niceties that women can weaponize at each other as microaggressions toward social supremacy.
The friends both come to develop a sexual hankering for Edgar (Jamie Dornan), a hunk harboring his own romantic hangups. Although not quite the comic revelation Dan Stevens was in Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga, Dornan is this film’s wild card of big-goof, go-for-broke energy. He’s game for any of the physical-comedy punchlines Wiig and Mumolo throw at him. And it’s also a wink-nudge jab at Dornan’s biggest role to date in the Fifty Shades of Gray franchise, a guy game-facing his way through life when he’s really in need of emotional rescue. Mumolo and Wiig naturally spark to each other onscreen as they have in creative partnership. But it’s the surprising filthy-Firthy energy from Dornan that keeps Barb and Star afloat whenever it starts to get logy.
Harold and Kumar’s jaunt to White Castle kept things in the drive-thru lane for a reason, and Barb and Star could’ve stood to leave some luggage at home. As it was in Bridesmaids, it feels like Mumolo and Wiig simply couldn’t bear to cut out anything that made them laugh. And it spends so much time away from any danger on the horizon that you’ve nearly forgotten all about it by the time Barb and Star need to save the day.
But as it turns out, that’s also part of the joke in this slight delight where laugh-aloud sight gags, ace supporting players and original songs by lounge-music parodist Richard Cheese abound. Given Mumolo’s rough road behind the scenes on subsequent projects, there’s an admirable mix of screwball energy and screw-it rebellion here, and it’s all smeared with the appropriate amount of visual kitsch from director Josh Greenbaum.
Originally intended as weird, woolly counter-programming to a summer season of banal blockbusters, Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar has shifted into a suitable respite from a longer-than-usual winter slog. Under this sunshine, you won’t mind getting baked.