Film Review: Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar

Directed by: Josh Greenbaum; Runtime: 107 minutes
Grade: C-

Bridesmaids came out nearly a decade and a half ago, and the comedy within the script by Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo still works as well as it does because of how authentic and identifiable they made the characters involved in preparations of a wedding. From underemployed, single creatives amid the economic collapse to overly perfect -- and overly wealthy -- friends and exhausted middle-aged parents, there’s a little something for everybody within its sharply executed laughs and deadpan scenarios … and even the things that aren’t “for you” could be identified with. With a decade-plus under their belts, it stands to reason that a new script from Wiig and Mumolo, about two isolated midwestern women in the late-40s going on a life-affirming vacation to paradise, could land on some of the same substance even when surrounded by ridiculousness. That isn’t what Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar is about, though, instead an outrageously persistent and shallow hodgepodge of surrealism, showtunes, and culottes.

Adorned with semi-short, feathered hair straight out of a decades-old style mag, we’re introduced to Barb (Mumolo) and Star (Wiig) as they chat at their place of employment, a sparse little furniture shop in Nebraska. After a life event gives them some free time and an excuse to ponder the direction that their lives have taken, they decide to visit the magical locale of Vista Del Mar, a resort town on the western side of Florida. After they get settled in their hotel, the two make an effort to soak up the local flavor and see the sights, including spending an evening partying with a much younger man, Edgar (Jamie Dornan). What seems like a typical midlife-crisis travel setup gets interrupted by the nefarious plans of an almost Bond-level villain, a starkly pale-skinned woman with an aggressively angular black hairstyle and an eye for vengeance upon the city of Vista Del Mar. As Barb and Star figure themselves out, their vacation intersects with the villain’s evil plans.

Barb and Star cannot get past its opening scene without revealing the big issue that’ll follow it until the credits roll: it’s tough to relate to it through the ultra-absurdity, projecting an attitude more like an extended Saturday Night Live skit than the Wiig-Mumolo duo’s other screenwriting effort. The chatter between Barb and Star as they sit on a floor-model couch and ignore customers may offer some amusement with the dry humor, but these are caricatures poking fun at stereotypes instead of semi-authentic mid-40s single women needing a break from their midwestern rut. From their participation in a weirdly authoritarian “talking club” to their matching obsessions with a specific name for a woman, it’s clear that Wiig and Mumolo have written way above elevated reality instead of, y’know, something boosted just a few steps above normal. Closer to Night at the Roxbury and Superstar than other modern SNL-ish spoofs, this is about shallow cartoon versions of people that the world surrounding them treats as entirely normal, a playground for how outrageous Wiig and Mumolo can get.

This is all before Barb and Star even take their first steps into the Palm Vista Hotel, which tosses those watching into a sea of ‘80s pastels, seaside decor and choreographed musical numbers, making it abundantly clear that enjoying this comedy will depend on one’s threshold for vibrant embellishments. The ladies get into the types of antics expected of a vacation-style comedy, from hooking up with strangers to trying stereotypical tourist activities, and the humor follows suit with overstatements of this dynamic duo’s fish-outta-water goofiness and need for a, uh, cleansing of the spirit. Wiig and Mumolo are clearly committed to having fun with it, doing a suitable job of essentially acting like high-pitch accented clones of one another, but they’re too enamored with the oversized characters they’ve created to keep tabs on whether their material makes its own laughs. It’s like soberly watching someone else getting lost in their own colorful hallucinations, complete with talking animals and spontaneous songs.

What’s odd about Barb and Star is that its most outlandish aspect, the amplified supervillain (also played by Wiig) who seems lifted straight from an abandoned Austin Powers sequel, ends up being its most successful invention. While the Nebraskan ladies are busy getting their groove back in Florida, the embittered albino baddie conjures up a dastardly plot for revenge against the small coastal tourist trap that destroyed her life, and the sequence of events forming her backstory and murderous plot are delightfully satirical. She’s only really there to give Barb and Star something exciting to do in the third act -- that’s how quickly vacation hijinks lose interest -- but her arrival in a white jumpsuit, sharp black bangs and ocean blue goggles turns into a breath of fresh air from the increasingly stale, mawkish absurdities around our two heroines. Her manipulation of Jamie Dornan’s solemn, smitten and entirely down-to-earth Edgar might not be convincing, but her visibly icky discomfort while doing so makes up for it.

Maybe this villainess works as well as she does in Barb and Star because she’s the most fully formed and plot essential idea in the script, whereas the rest of the material written by Wiig and Mumolo comes across like a wave of self-gratifying brainstorms that the pair have decided to crash into their audience. Some may find enjoyment in this unashamed vacation from reality, and the value of pure absurdity shouldn’t be overlooked, but there’s a degree of focus and control that makes similar out-there comedies work based on the filmmakers’ grasp on what they want to achieve. Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar wants to try so many things and cram in so much tongue-in-cheek goofiness -- from midlife awakenings and doomsday plots to extraneous plays on words and the baffling “magic” helping out the ladies -- that the point of watching it for any other reason fades away in the Florida sun. No matter how much it wishes to be so, the mythical power of culottes isn’t enough to save the day here.

Photos: Lionsgate


Post a Comment

Thoughts? Love to hear 'em -- if they're kept clean and civil.