‘Barb & Star’ Review: You’ll Never Want to Leave Vista Del Mar
Barb & Star Go to Vista Del Mar isn’t a movie, it’s a wavelength. You either get on it or you don’t. I’m sure some viewers will complain that Barb and Star are so quirky and chipper that they’re annoying, or that the film’s comedy is too bizarre and random. Take my advice: Cut those people out of your life. You don’t need to associate yourself with anyone who is that wrong about something this important.
Barb & Star is important. It certainly made me laugh harder than anything since the pandemic started. It lifted me out of my quarantined hovel in Brooklyn and transported me to a wonderland of pool parties, friendship bracelets, and ravenous hordes of mosquitos. It has one killer sequence after another. Comedy fans will quote this movie for decades.
It emerges from the minds (and, no doubt, the very souls) of writers/producers/stars Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo. The two previously collaborated on Bridesmaids, which earned them both Oscar nominations for Best Original Screenplay and grossed almost $290 million worldwide. Why did a followup take nine years? Whatever reason, it better not take nine more years for Wiig and Mumolo to make another movie together, either behind the scenes or in front of the camera. This is a comedy team to be reckoned with.
In this case, their subjects are Barb (Mumolo) and Star (Wiig) two perpetually sunny middle-aged women who love working at the local Jennifer Convertibles almost as much as they platonically love each other. Barb and Star, who were both been left by the men in their lives many years earlier, are utterly inseparable. When Barb has the day off, Star comes to work to keep her company. They don‘t so much finish each other’s sentences as they build them collaboratively from beginning to end, interjecting frequently and affirming each other’s kooky opinions on everything from turtles to the perfection of the first name “Trish.”
Then their Jennifer Convertibles closes — it turns out the company went out of business months ago but no one alerted their local branch – and the ladies are cast adrift. Given a generous severance package, they decide to splurge on a lavish trip to an exotic place they’ve heard about from a gal pal: Vista Del Mar. There, they fall for a hunky dude named Edgar (Jamie Dornan) who — wait for it — just so happens to be aiding an albino supervillain (also played by Kristen Wiig) who hangs out in an evil lair plotting a needlessly elaborate revenge on the residents of Vista Del Mar involving deadly mosquitos. Barb and Star are oblivious to all of this, but their lies to one another about Edgar threaten their relationship. (The deadly mosquitos threaten their relationship also. Really, in terms of degree of danger, the threats are #1 deadly mosquitos, #2 lies to one another about Edgar.)
I can only imagine how this plot reads on the page. It’s not necessarily less weird onscreen, but it works, thanks to Wiig and Mumulo’s incredible comic chemistry and their inspired script, which is full of consistent surprises. Gags can arrive at any moment from any subject. There are jokes on the back of a book cover you can only see if you pause the movie and examine one shot very closely. Even the name of Barb and Star’s hometown gets a huge laugh. There are clear antecedents for Barb & Star’s vibe; the whole double role and supervillain schtick recalls Austin Powers, and the surreal digressions recall Will Ferrell and Adam McKay’s comedies of the early 2000s, particularly Step Brothers. (Both served as producers here.) But the overall package — the bright color palette, and oddball animal humor, and Jamie Dornan dancing out his emotions — is something fresh and unique. (It was an altogether brilliant choice to cast Christian Grey as a clueless, commitment-crazed dork who can’t seem to get anyone to love him.)
Even before the pandemic, the Hollywood studio comedy seemed like an endangered species. So many studio movies of all kinds have been delayed for the past year, and a lot of the stuff that’s managed to sneak out on streaming or VOD has been about killer viruses, or people in rooms arguing with each other. I think I speak for a lot of movie lovers when I say: That’s not what people what right now. This is what they want. They want escape. They want culottes. They want exuberant musical numbers. They want banana boats. They want crabs that dispense helpful life advice. They want Barb and Star.
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