Synopsis – Lifelong friends Barb and Star embark on the adventure of a lifetime when they decide to leave their small Midwestern town for the first time – ever.
My Take – Being the first major comedy to be released in 2021, this feature directorial debut from Josh Greenbaum, despite a ludicrous trailer, has a lot riding on it. Other than the fact that it has Will Ferrell and Adam McKay attached as producers, it also sees Kristen Wiig reunite with her Academy Award-nominated screenwriting partner, Annie Mumolo, as co-producers and co-leads, a whole decade after the Paul Feig directed Bridesmaids.
While I am confident that no one involved expected to see this one hit the impossible standards set by the 2011 raunchy comedy, their latest collaboration does once again see both Wiig and Mumolo find their sweet spot with a great buddy comedy about stepping out of your comfort zone and broadening your horizons. Told with such an endless amount of charm and nonsensical silliness, this film just couldn’t have been released at a better time.
The whole film is so incredibly random that it shouldn’t work, and yet it does, because the sublime farce is utterly charming, surprisingly sentimental, and wholeheartedly hilarious. Though their initial writing style drew comparisons to Judd Apatow‘s films like Knocked Up, but their sophomore effort is surprisingly more in the lines of the Austin Powers franchise and Zoolander duo-logy.
It honestly is a shame that the film, which was originally intended for theatrical release last summer, was forced to opt for an online release, as it would have served perfectly in front of a large audience, who would have hilariously gobbled up every loopy twist and every one-liner, the comedy threw its way, including the gags which continue on to the most absurdist points.
The story follows Barb (Annie Mumulo) and Star (Kristen Wiig), two middle-aged lifelong best friends, who live together and work together at the same furniture store in a small town, and have seen each other through the best of times and worst of times, including the passing of Barb’s husband and Star’s crushing divorce. However, when they find themselves out of jobs as their store closes down, they are left with no direction in life, until they get the idea to go on a week-long vacation together to a resort town called Vista Del Mar, off the coast of Florida.
Once there, they each become more uninhibited and prefer going off on adventures on their own while trying to make the other one think they’re having a dull time. Star, particularly, falls in love with the dashing and hapless Edgar (Jamie Dornan), who is only in town to make sure that a bunch of genetically altered killer mosquitoes are unleashed without a hitch, because all he wants is to impress and earn the title of official couple with his boss, Sharon Gordon Fisherman (Kristen Wiig), the mad scientist behind the attack.
Right from its mouthful of a title, this is a comedy very much unlike anything that ordinarily gets made these days. With a quirky screenplay that delights in the interplay between the two leads, here, director Josh Greenbaum has crafted something truly unique here. Because the characters are grounded, he has the ability to build a wonderfully strange world around them and he does, filling the vacation spot with unique characters and vibrant colors.
The surprises aren’t in the plot developments here but in the way that the film seamlessly melds different genres into something truly hilarious and undeniably memorable. And much like Wiig and Mumolo‘s last film together, the film takes a look at a female friendship that is sweet, though probably a little more dependent than it needs to be, and puts the characters into an unknown situation that tests their bond in ways it’s never been tested before, only to see them ultimately come together to realize how much they need one another.
But while Bridesmaids grounds some of its most ridiculous moments in reality, this one immediately embraces that absurdity and turns it up even more. While Star and Barb’s friendship is grounded and relatable, the feature surrounds them with absurdist elements and silly comedy. Like the hypothetical story for an imaginary person named Trish, which starts as a light-hearted thought exercise about Trish’s personality, and ends with both of them sobbing over Trish’s cancer diagnosis and self-induced death.
Their dialogue is so organic that Barb and Star’s kookiness never seems put-on. Even amid the most ludicrous of situations you never doubt their commitment to one another or their mere existence. The greatest pleasure of the film is just spending time in the company of Barb and Star.
Even the ones that didn’t get a laugh from me the first time around kept coming back with such nonsense persistence like the ladies’ love of culottes, a type of pants I’d never heard of, that I ended up smiling. The film’s secret weapon is that it’s so aggressively random in its pile-up of absurd comic ideas that it just never gets boring. Like the spy named Darlie Bunkle (Damon Wayans Jr.) who frequently slip up and give away important information, a Morgan Freeman sounding talking crab named Morgan Freemond, two extremely funny musical numbers with original songs written by Wiig and Mumolo, and the appearance of Andy García as Tommy Bahama.
All this frequently brings laugh-out-loud moments to the film, and makes it something you will want to go back and re-watch again and again if you like this kind of comedy. However, the screenplay never dwells on the craziest moments of their trip. Instead, it always brings viewers back to the characters here and although they experience some whacky things, it’s the characters and their journeys that drive the story.
As one would expect, both Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumulo are equally delightful, and clearly had a blast when they wrote the film’s screenplay and brought these characters to life with their performances. It is also enjoyable to watch Wiig getting to play two fully lived-in comic characters and dive so gleefully.
However, the real standout here is Jamie Dornan, who reintroduces himself as someone who can play the most deadpan of comic roles. Though a gifted actor, he continues to be known for his leading role in the obnoxious Fifty Shades of Grey series, thankfully, the Dornan gets to shows his depth by playing comfortably in a film that mixes different genres. A fight sequence between him and Damon Wayans Jr. is a brilliant bit of intentionally half-assed physical comedy the film allowed him to excel in.
In other roles, Damon Wayans Jr., Vanessa Bayer, Fortune Feimster, Phyllis Smith, Rose Abdoo, and newcomer Reyn Doi are also impressive. On the whole, ‘Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar’ is a classic absurd comedy that is both gloriously hilarious and exuberantly silly.
Directed – Josh Greenbaum
Rated – PG13
Run Time – 107 minutes