Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar, 2021.
Directed by Josh Greenbaum.
Starring Kristen Wiig, Annie Mumolo, Jamie Dornan, Damon Wayans Jr., Vanessa Bayer, Wendi McLendon-Covey and Reyn Doi.
Two middle-aged friends travel to an idyllic Florida resort, where they become embroiled in an elaborate criminal plot.
There’s a long-running theory in film circles that categories the early months of the year as “Dumpuary” on the distribution calendar. With most of the attentions of the world occupied by awards season movies, and cinemagoing cash tight after Christmas, studios have historically used January and February as a sort of landfill for some of their ropier titles. This year, that has been less true than usual given the effects of last year’s unprecedented chaos. However, the arrival of the truly awful comedy Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar is here to restore the reputation of Dumpuary in a big way.
Annie Mumolo and Kristen Wiig play the titular small-town friends, who are in their forties but act like out-of-touch pensioner caricatures for reasons that are never fully explored. The department store where they work has been shut down (“the national chain closed seven months ago and nobody bothered to tell us”) leaving the duo unemployed and with a severance cheque burning holes in their pockets. They decide on a getaway to the sun-baked Florida resort of Vista Del Mar – shot in Cancun, Mexico – where they vow to try everything, including a wild night of passion with mysterious stranger Edgar (Jamie Dornan). Soon, though, they learn there’s something dark behind Edgar’s muscles.
One certainly can’t accuse Barb and Star of lacking ideas. Wiig and Mumolo pack a great deal of material into their script, which throws everything at the wall – from killer mosquitoes and PG-13 sex jokes to a talking crab called Morgan Freemond who references Driving Miss Daisy. The most terminal problem is that it lacks any sort of identity to tie these ramshackle elements together. Sometimes it’s a cutesy comedy about middle-age friends. Sometimes it’s a James Bond spoof. Occasionally, it takes a baffling left-turn into song-and-dance musical. The film commits to each of its bits so completely that, ultimately, it feels as if it doesn’t fully embrace any one element.
The central characters are deeply irritating, saddled with overwrought comedy accents which only further deepen the confusion around whether they’re meant to be 40-somethings like the actors or ancient technophobes who are blind to the world. Wiig and Mumolo are both incredible comedy performers and so there’s a certain stopped clock element which means the movie occasionally hits the right note, but everything else is alarmingly wide of the mark. If there’s a bright spot – and there might only be one – it’s the earnest enjoyment Dornan seems to feel at getting to make an out-and-out comedy where his sexiness is entirely secondary. He even makes a decent fist of a big musical number.
Structure is certainly a problem, with Wiig and Mumolo’s script evidently bolstered by considerable improvisation on the set. A riff about the name “Trisha” seems to extend infinitely as the two leads chuck halfway-amusing gags back and forth for what feels like hours. Director Josh Greenbaum, making a narrative feature for the first time after a series of documentaries and TV work, cannot assemble this collage of comedy into a coherent tapestry and the result is a misshapen, muddled movie. This is a selection of not especially funny skits more than anything else, stitched together by an afterthought of a spy plotline which never really rings true.
It’s a shame to see Barb and Star fall so flat given the calibre of talent involved. But sadly the concept was misguided from the start and simply isn’t robust enough to power a feature-length movie. It’s easy to imagine Barb and Star being fun, recurring additions to a sketch show roster but, when they’re tasked with sustaining a coherent 90-minute story, Wiig and Mumolo are forced to add in bizarre, extraneous elements – a lounge singer who seems to perform only boob-related tracks – that seem to be generated randomly rather than for their relevance or comic potential. These two women are paper-thin from a character point of view and the movie has little interest in deepening them.
Barb and Star is a head-scratcher of an experience, but it’s also one which really hammers home the impact of cinemas remaining shuttered. In a packed screening room, it’s easy to imagine the wackier excesses of the movie catching fire and masking the fundamental flaws of the storytelling and characters. Watched alone in the home, though, the silence is deafening. Despite how hard everybody involved is trying, the laughs just don’t come.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ / Movie: ★ ★
Tom Beasley is a freelance film journalist and wrestling fan. Follow him on Twitter via @TomJBeasley for movie opinions, wrestling stuff and puns.