A film that needs to be seen to be believed
BARB AND STAR GO TO VISTA DEL MAR (2021)
Given the critical and commercial success of Bridesmaids, you imagine there’s a certain sense of pressure on co-writers/co-stars Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo to re-capture the comedic magic that projected that film forward as much as it did; hell, it even netted them an Oscar nomination for Best Original Screenplay! But with Barb & Star Go To Vista Del Mar it’s obvious that the duo haven’t placed much emphasis on such a recreation, instead marching to the beat of their own off-kilter drum. Lovingly created in a manner similar to the dynamic of Bill & Ted, Barb & Star are wholly realised characters that may have the sense of caricature, but are so intricately embodied that their personalities somehow ground the absolutely absurd comedy that unspools around them.
Josh Greenbaum, who primarily has experience directing TV and comedically-slanted documentaries, feels all too aware of how to embrace the manic mentality that Wiig and Mumolo have created with this film. It may seem like it’s all incredibly random, unstructured, and, quite frankly, ridiculous - and the plot very much is - but he never lets the material or the performers overshadow the other. Comedies, especially ones such as this, have the tendency to linger longer than they need to, with the sense that the director wasn’t willing to rein in the performers when their shtick overstays its welcome often adhered to. Here, the lunacy is deliberate and the trust Greenbaum has in the capabilities of his cast is evident.
As much control Greenbaum has on his cast and the material, there’s no denying that the narrative on hand is ridiculous. The story here is really more of an excuse for the players to let loose with their jokes and to lean into the lunacy of the genre. Barb (Mumolo) and Star (Wiig) are the best of friends and seem all too content with their glib lives - sitting on the display couch in the department store they work in is a highlight for them, to give an example of their mentality - so the idea of them going on holiday naturally already brings a plethora of comedic possibilities to the table. The fact that said table eventuates to musical numbers, a mass murder plot, and a love triangle involving a chiseled henchman (Jamie Dornan) only reiterates the absurdity, but further showcases just how controlled a film it really is given the stupidity of it all.
ACTING | CHARACTERS | DIALOGUE:
As much as this is guided by Wiig and Mumolo, both actresses clearly having an absolute ball of a time living inside these creations, the supporting cast assembled here really do some incredible comedic work, with the unlikely Jamie Dornan emerging as Barb & Star’s secret weapon. There’s an energy to his performance and a wonderful subversion of expected vanity that he plays with to the most fascinating degree; he arguably gets the film’s most divine musical moment involving a seagull that is worth the price of admission alone. Wiig pulls double duty as the crazed albino mastermind behind the aforementioned murder plot - it’s nowhere near as sinister as it sounds - and there’s some wonderfully obscure moments between Vanessa Bayer and Phyllis Smith as “book club” type acquaintances who, respectively, have a penchant for confiscating food and talking about horses, further fuelling the bizarre fire that is this film.
VISUAL EFFECTS | MAKEUP | DESIGN:
Whilst a lot of Barb & Star’s aesthetic personality is down to a good wig and a flashy pair of culottes, there’s a joyous look to the film as a whole. If it isn’t the 1980’s colour pallet or Wiig’s Austin Powers-approved villain, a talking crab (which may or may not be voiced by a familiar name) is enough to give the film the extra star it deserves.
MUSIC | SCORE | SOUND DESIGN:
Next to the aforementioned Jamie Dornan musical number, we’re treated to several other wild sequences that suggest this film could have very easily sustained a complete musical mentality.
I’ll admit that when Barb & Star started I was taken aback by the farcicality of it all, but once I settled in to the lunacy, I was completely swept away with Wiig and Mumolo’s well intentioned, Mel Brooks-meets-Bill-&-Ted-by-way-of-SNL temperament that they committed to. A film that honestly needs to be seen to be believed, this is less accessible than Bridesmaids, but it’s likely to have as long a shelf life thanks to an absurdity that essentially lends the film a live-action cartoon feel.