In their long-awaited follow up to Bridesmaids (2011), Kristen Wiig (Wonder Woman 1984) and Annie Mumolo (Bad Moms) return with another story about female friendship. Barb (Mumolo) and Star (Wiig) are two divorced middle-aged ladies living together in Nebraska, who lose their job in a furniture store, leaving them with nothing in their sheltered lives but a ‘talk group’ of pleasant but dull women.
With naïve wonder and loaded with severance money, Barb and Star decide to break out of their social bubbles and fly to the sun-kissed resort of Vista Del Mar, arriving into a world of bright pastel hotel rooms, sandy beaches, and kitsch seashell stalls. The effervescent pair are greeted with a lavish song-and-dance number, reminiscent of a camp 1960s Elvis Presley musical, but those hoping the film will continue in this vein may be disappointed.
The pair soon fall in love with hunky holidaymaker Edgar Paget (Jamie Dornan), who tells them he’s a salesman but is secretly a hitman on a mission to infect Vista Del Mar with a deadly virus, in a convoluted twist of expectations. Edgar’s only carrying out the wishes of his pale-faced employer, Dr Lady (also played by Wiig), in an effort to have her fall in love with him.
Wiig channels Cate Blanchett in her dual role as Dr Lady, a geisha-like supervillain who lives in an underground lair, plotting revenge on Vista Del Mar after a childhood trauma at their annual crowing of the Shrimp Queen. Dr Lady’s statuesque poses, pallid skin, and black bob, all have traces of Blanchett’s characters in Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008) and Thor: Ragnarok (2017).
Nobody’s expected to keep up with the nonsensical plot, as the writers barely do. What Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar is actually about is two middle-aged friends learning to love themselves after a mid-life crisis. There’s heart beneath all the zaniness, as Wiig and Mumolo are never cruel about the type of woman who find culottes the height of fashion. This sartorial item’s almost a character in itself! Old friends in real life, the actors met at the legendary improv group The Groundlings and thus have the type of chemistry it’s hard to fake on camera.
There’s a sense of a real relationship between Barb and Star throughout the movie. They finish each other’s sentences, riff on their awkwardness, and often babble about nonsensical things—like their mutual adoration of the name Trish. Admittedly, some scenes work better than others. The musical interludes are the best part of Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar, so it’s a shame they don’t lean into them more often.
Dornan, best-known for his dramatic roles and Fifty Shades of Grey (2012), is also having a ball here. His solo musical scene, where he serenades a seagull and declares his love for Dr Lady, is sure to go down as a cult classic. Another memorable sequence involves Edgar getting high with Barb and Star at their hotel, gyrating on the dance floor to a club remix of Celine Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On.”
Another element this comedy gets right is the genre parody. Although not as on the nose or referential as Spy (2015) and the Austin Powers trilogy, the obvious stunt doubles, bad VFX, and overlong villain monologues are hilarious. Damon Wayans Jr. (New Girl) is sorely underused as the world’s worst secret agents, however, who gets identified via his caller ID and keeps letting slip his secret plans. A Dornan and Wayans spin-off wouldn’t be such a bad idea.
Director Josh Greenbaum (Fresh Off the Boat) understands that a romp this farcical needs to maintain a strong pace, and the narrative absurdities and performances are often spotlighted, evoking some Leslie Nielsen and Gene Wilder comedies. There are many good things about Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar, but most are found in the under-explored parts. The climax takes the parody and buffoonery a little too far, dragging things down when the story should be peaking, and it can sometimes feel like Wiig and Mumolo came up with two sketch characters who aren’t quite complex enough to carry a feature-length movie.
Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar is so ridiculously out-there, and it’s hard to compare it to any other comedy of recent years. It takes guts to craft a film this bonkers and make it work. Plenty of jokes land, even if many don’t, but it has a decent hit-rate, although you’ll need a taste for the absurd to completely enjoy it. But whenever the screenplay threatens to run out of steam, the entertaining performances always rescue it.
The film becomes more amusing once you learn to throw out any concerns about realism. It’s ludicrous but always watchable, like Top Secret (1983) meets Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery (1997) and Blue Hawaii (1961). If you’re looking for an evening spent watching vibrant silliness, one could do worse than Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar.
USA | 2021 | 107 MINUTES | 2.39:1 | COLOUR | ENGLISH
Cast & Crew
director: Josh Greennaum.
writers: Kristen Wiig & Annie Mumolo.
starring: Kristen Wiig, Annie Mumolo, Jamie Dornan, Wendi McLendon-Covey, Damon Wayans Jr., Michael Hitchcock, Vanessa Bayer, Fortune Feimster, Rose Abdoo, Phyllis Smith, Andy Garcia & Karen Maruyama.