Review: Give in to the kooky charms of ‘Barb & Star Go to Vista Del Mar.’ You need the laugh
What are we to do with the wacky, tacky and weirdly delightful “Barb & Star Go to Vista Del Mar”? Written by and starring Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo, the writers of “Bridesmaids” and creative partners since their days in L.A. sketch comedy troupe the Groundlings, this friendship comedy in which best friends Barb (Mumolo) and Star (Wiig), do, indeed, go to Vista Del Mar, is so outrageously infectious the only choice is to submit to its kooky charms.
Co-star Jamie Dornan gets swept away by its absurdist rhythms, performing an elaborate musical lament to an audience of seagulls, ripping off his mint polo, singing to the sky, splashing in the aquamarine waves of Vista Del Mar (Cancun and Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, stand in for this Florida locale). Is the movie a musical? Nope. But that doesn’t mean that it can’t have musical numbers or a subplot featuring Wiig as a decidedly Dr. Evil-inspired character hell-bent on releasing murder mosquitoes on the people of Vista Del Mar. One of the notes I took (before abandoning note-taking altogether to catch more of the rapid-fire jokes) was “Austin Powers vibes,” which I consider high praise.
The Austin Powers vibes offer a sense of stakes to the script, which clearly originated as a character piece for Wiig and Mumolo. Barb and Star are a pair of chipper, middle-aged, Midwestern divorcées who can easily prattle on about any topic, like their jobs at Jennifer Convertibles (which they’ve recently lost) or an imaginary woman named Trish (whose life story they fantasize on the plane to Vista Del Mar).
After their jobs are liquidated and they’re kicked out of their “talking club,” policed by a militant Debbie (Vanessa Bayer), the friends head out on a vacation at the behest of pal Mickey (Wendi McLendon-Covey), hoping to ride a banana boat and get their “shimmer” back. They could never anticipate what awaits them in Florida.
For such seemingly buttoned-up gals, Barb and Star are surprisingly adventurous and they take to the hedonistic atmosphere at Vista Del Mar like seagulls to the ocean (it’s not entirely clear whether the hotel is a swingers resort … the film does not confirm nor deny).
When Star falls for handsome henchman Edgar (Dornan), who has been tasked with placing a receiver for attracting the murder mosquitoes to the Seafood Jam (again, just go with it), their friendship will be tested in ways that help them grow as individuals and together.
The narrative feature debut of TV comedy and documentary veteran Josh Greenbaum, the cinematic style of “Barb & Star” seems to be “gawd-awful on purpose”: The eye-searing tropical colors are overblown and everything’s shot in a shallow depth of field. But the visual jokes are dense and the look works for the setting and comedic ethos, reflecting the junky tourist-trap aesthetic that Mumolo and Wiig celebrate. The film is the visual equivalent of a cheaply made, heinously charming and diverting trinket that one can buy at a beach hut boardwalk kiosk. And I mean that as a compliment.
“Barb & Star Go to Vista Del Mar” is an optimistic and unabashed celebration of many things that are taken for granted: culottes, friendship, women doing comedy so aggressively silly that you can’t help but marvel at whoever gave them the money to make this. Go ahead, laugh a little.
‘Barb & Star Go To Vista Del Mar’
Rated: PG-13, for crude sexual content, drug use and some strong language
Running time: 1 hour 47 minutes
Playing: Available Feb. 12, premium digital and VOD
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