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When a comedy movie is truly great, it doesn’t just make you laugh in the moment. Instead, a great comedy movie reveals itself to you days later when you’re letting your mind wander and suddenly find yourself in hysterics remembering a random line or scene. The perfect timing in some dialogue delivery or deft physicality of a moment becomes tattooed on your brain, and every time your thoughts drift to it the corners of your mouth make a run for your ears. Before too long you realize that you can watch the film on repeat, and every time it plays it provides the same kind of joy.
Josh Greenbaum’s Barb And Star Go To Vista Del Mar is a comedy absolutely destined for this kind of reception in the hearts of cinephiles – particularly those who enjoy their comedy with a nice mix of the surreal and absurd.
Admittedly the movie takes a minute to adjust to. The script, the first written by Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo together since 2011’s Bridesmaids, doesn’t tiptoe around when it comes to establishing tone: its opening centers on a paperboy named Yoyo (Reyn Doi) haphazardly performing his route while singing along to "Guilty" by Barbra Streisand & Barry Gibb… before revealing that he is a henchman for a James Bond-esque albino supervillain named Sharon Gordon Fisherman with a dastardly plan involving a swarm of deadly mosquitos. It’s somewhat throttling to be thrown into such dedicated weirdness so fast, but like adjusting to cool waters when wadding into the ocean on an early summer beach day, once you’re totally submerged and acclimated what awaits is spectacular fun.
With its odd plot established, Barb And Star Go To Vista Del Mar then introduces us to its titular leads, and within moments you’re both enchanted and flummoxed by the duo. Employees of a retail furniture shop in a small Nebraska town, Barb (Annie Mumolo) and Star (Kristen Wiig) are single, middle-aged ladies with simple demands in the world – asking only to be able to forever sit on their favorite floor model couch and talk. And talk. And talk. Unfortunately, this life gets ripped away from them when they’re told that the store’s parent chain shut down months ago and just never bothered to tell their manager.
Unemployed, afraid to be the shame of their Talking Club, and concerned about losing their “shimmer,” Barb and Star find themselves scared about the future – but fate intervenes with a casual run in with their friend Mickey Revelet (Wendi McLendon-Covey). Looking all kinds of tan and happy, Mickey tells them about a vacation oasis in Florida called Vista Del Mar, and paints her time there as a soul-cleansing experience.
Though there is hesitation to change up their routines, Barb and Star agree that a trip to Vista Del Mar is exactly what they need. One red eye flight later (the time equivalent of one conversation about their favorite name: Trish), they arrive and discover a tropical paradise. They check into their hotel and open themselves up to an experience that will bring them closer together as friends – but what they don’t expect is a romantic entanglement with a handsome stranger named Edgar (Jamie Dornan), who is, unbeknownst to them, an undercover agent working for Sharon Gordon Fisherman (Kristen Wiig in a dual role).
You never know where the next laugh is coming from in Barb And Star Go To Vista Del Mar, and that’s part of the magic.
It’s tricky to categorize Barb And Star Go To Vista Del Mar, or even really compare it to anything else, as its sensibilities are unique. In some ways it’s like a live-action cartoon, as it possesses its own kind of otherworldly logic, but even in its more grounded moments it makes you hysterical through pure goofiness. It’s functionally insane that Sharon Gordon Fisherman sends in a backup agent for Edgar who with each appearance divulges more and more secretive information about himself – but Damon Wayans Jr.'s Darlie Bunkle earns gasping-for-air laughs every time she shows up. So much of the material is delivered from 60 miles beyond left field, and it’s stunning how many original ways it’s able to hit comedic gold.
Part of what explains this success is the film’s pure earnestness. Barb and Star are characters who brim with positivity, and while you might think that this would be counterbalanced with cynicism for easy laughs, the more challenging path is taken. The energy of the movie’s protagonists proves contagious, and while you chuckle at things that are dumb and silly, none of it is mean-spirited or even dark. It’s not without adult themes, including some funny doses of sex and drugs, but it’s also thoroughly PG-13 (and the funniest PG-13 movie in years too).
Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo are a phenomenal pair with genius comedic chemistry.
The biggest want coming out of Barb And Star Go To Vista Del Mar is the intense demand to see Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo make many, many more movies together – both as screenwriters and as stars. This could be called affirmation that their script for Bridesmaids was no fluke, but it’s also so wildly different than the Paul Feig-directed movie that it feels the focus should more be on what else their awesome creative minds may create next. In addition to the weird, wild, and wonderful world of the film, its eponymous leads are spectacular and curiously rich characters, and the back and forth between Wiig and Mumolo is breathtaking in how organic it is (it’s a rare case where you can’t fully differentiate the material from the screenplay and improvisation).
Jamie Dornan is Barb And Star Go To Vista Del Mar’s greatest and most sidesplitting surprise.
Given Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo’s backgrounds, it’s not exactly a shock that they are so funny – but the same sentiment can’t be shared for Jamie Dornan, who comes out of Barb And Star Go To Vista Del Mar looking like a comedy genius. At first it looks like he may get set up as the movie’s main straight man, but don’t be misled: Edgar is as brilliantly bizarre as anyone else in the ensemble. He has a vexing unrequited love for Sharon Gordon Fisherman, but also has his worldview rocked by Barb and Star after one psychedelic night together, which leads him to do things like perform musical numbers on the beach praying to the seagulls for guidance. Those who watch Dornan’s performance will never look at him the same way – and opinions will only go up.
Comedy is a subjective art form, and there will certainly be plenty of people who don’t quite vibe with Barb And Star Go To Vista Del Mar, but those who do are in for a spectacular treat. Whether or not it finds an immediate audience is incidental, as it is guaranteed to be headed towards cult movie status; the only question pre-release is exactly how big the cult will be.