In the before times, a certain kind of moron was harmlessly endearing and not treasonously dangerous. Barb (Annie Mumolo) and Star (Kristen Wiig) are that type of moron. They have been sorely missed.
Their feature debut, Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar, is flagrantly idiotic and intentionally nonsensical, in what feels like as close as we’re legally allowed to get to a cult classic these days. Director Josh Greenbaum’s film is the rarest of modern comedies, in that it is actually funny. But also in that its big jokes kinda flop, while nearly every single little beat hits. For example, prepare to cackle at the whispered refrain of a single word: “Dumbledore.”
Barb and Star are from Soft Rock, Nebraska, a town you know is made up because Sam and Dean never killed a vampire there on Supernatural. When they get unceremoniously shitcanned, the ladies decide to go on vacation to Florida, which even meth-using alligators will tell you is unwise. Once there, the duo gets debauched with Edgar (Jamie Dornan), who happens to be the pawn of a mad scientist (also played by Wiig), who intends to kill thousands using weaponized mosquitos.
The simplicity of chatty middle-aged rubes cutting loose on vacay is at total odds with a plot device that feels like a vestigial tail from the Austin Powers series. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, as the disconnect adds a quasi-hallucinatory vibe that excuses all non sequiturs and lets the titular goofuses goof their asses off. Wiig and Mumolo, who also wrote the script, deliver the kind of hard-labor funny that looks effortless. Watching them lie to each other about turtle encounters is more riotous than any of the big set pieces, which barely beg a chuckle.
Dornan can’t keep up really, but who could possibly match pace with the women behind Bridesmaids? Presumably, he was strategically snagged by a claw from amid a pool of hunks because he is forever unencumbered by the very concept of shame, after the Fifty Shades trilogy. The remainder of the supporting cast are given more cameos than subplots, save for Damon Wayans Jr, whose character simply must have worked better in theory.
Speaking of theorizing, the reason why Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar works, but something like (gestures to Adam Sandler and friends’ last decade of work), doesn’t is elusive. Maybe it’s that watching two proudly middle-aged characters who are women—and whose idiocy skews towards kindness and whose horniness feels wholesome somehow—hits different? Or maybe it is as simple as the fact that the film goes out of its way to conceive of an environment and plot circumstances that can’t possibly be construed as having any real-world implications.
Who cares? All that matters is that this overstuffed SNL sketch is a nonstop giggler, overstuffed with quotable nuggets and gleefully dorky. In the dead of a uniquely hellish winter in which vacations are ethically impossible, Barb and Star provide the getaway we all need.
Grade = A-
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Other Critical Voices to Consider
Carla Hay from Culture Mix says “Considering the level of talent involved in this movie, it’s a misfire in so many ways, and it will just make people appreciate Bridesmaids even more.”
Katie Smith-Wong from Flickfeast says “Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar is essentially a guilty pleasure – its lack of logic is compensated by its feeling of fun and entertainment, which are instilled by Barb and Star’s infectious enthusiasm amid the bright production design.”
Katie Walsh at the LA Times says the film 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.”