Review: The uneven but just-funny-enough 'Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar' goes to unexpected places
I'm not sure I've ever seen a film quite with the same comedic tone (or tones) than the clunky-titled "Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar." But in an era where comedies are few and far between, "Barb and Star" feels like the right movie at the right time, for an audience desperately clamoring for something light and goofy.
"Barb and Star" stars but is also written by Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo, two real-life friends whose on-screen chemistry carries over. Barb (Mumolo) and Star (Wiig) are fast-talking, middle-aged women who also just so happen to be the best of friends. They feel like characters that might have been lifted directly from an SNL skit and given their own movie, but they are in fact fresh creations. They're lame, out-of-touch weirdos with a penchant for culottes (don't worry if you don't know what culottes are, the film will define them for you...and if you not only know what culottes are but wear them often as part of your wardrobe, the "Barb and Star" is made directly for you).
After losing their job and following a disastrous "talk club" with their other friends (featuring funny cameos from Vanessa Bayer and Fortune Feimster), Barb and Star decide to go on a luxurious vacation to Vista Del Mar, a small island off the coast of Florida. That's where things get REALLY weird...because a super-villainous albino woman named Sharon Gordon Fisherman (also played by Wiig) is plotting to destroy Vista Del Mar (don't ask) with a swarm of deadly mosquitoes and with the help of her child sidekick, Yoyo (Reyn Doi) and the dashingly handsome Edgar (Jamie Dornan), who is also pining for her affection.
Barb and Star get entangled with Edgar, and before you know it, people are being shot out of cannons, characters are breaking into musical numbers and an inexplicable celebrity is making a cameo as a magical mermaid.
It's completely bonkers, and it only sometimes works. But the whole endeavor feels like a welcome experiment, especially when we've had to go somewhere other than movies to find our laughs over the past 12 months.
What's most baffling about "Barb and Star" is the unsteady "lane" of the comedy itself. Most comedies require us to "fall in line" with its established rhythm, or "buy in" to its overall level of absurdity. "Barb and Star" though, is the first movie I've ever seen that jumps between "Airplane!" and "The Naked Gun" level farce, to "Austin Powers" style-silliness, and then back down to "normal" buddy-comedy territory...sometimes all in the same scene.
But while not every joke or attempt lands, "Barb and Star" excels mostly in the characters that populate the edges of the screen. A hilarious re-occurring joke has a lounge singer named Richard Cheese (Mark Jonathan Davis) whose little ditties like "I Love Boobies" are interspersed with songs about people he went to high school with that are now dead. Bumbling secret agent Darlie Bunkle (Damon Wayans Jr.) has a bad habit of spoiling every secret he's trying to keep. Gary the Concierge (Michael Hitchcock) is on-hand to deliver full-fledged musicals for arriving guests, and a CG-crab on the beach named Morgan Freemond talks to Star and offers her sound advice.
Perhaps the biggest delight of the film though, comes in the surprisingly hilarious performance from Jamie Dornan, known up until now primarily as Christian Grey in the "Fifty Shades" movies, but who steals every scene he's in, and provides the film's funniest sequence...a musical number that has him leaping, singing and spinning his way down the beach. If anything comes out of this movie, it's that Jamie Dornan has much more to offer us than just being a salacious sex icon.
In a sea of comedies, "Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar" may not rank very high, but because it's the only comedy to wash up on the beach lately, it feels like a rescue mission.
Run Time: 1 hour 47 minutes.
Starring: Kristen Wiig, Annie Mumolo, Jamie Dornan, Daman Wayans Jr., Vanessa Bayer, Fortune Feimster.
Written by Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo.
Directed by Josh Greenbaum ("Too Funny To Fail: The Life & Death of The Dana Carvey Show").
"Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar" is available on Friday, February 12th, 2021.
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