REVIEW: Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar (2021)
Bridesmaids is indisputably one of the best comedies of the last 10 years. No, don’t try and fight it. It just IS. It’s cultural impact went way beyond what could have been a throwaway film about ladies getting drunk and pooping themselves, instead leading to a slew of copycat films and showing that there WAS a big commercial appetite for female-led comedy. Ladies were not only funny, they could make the studios big cash. It was therefore a moment of great joy when the news was broken that writers Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo were reuniting for another left-field comedy. Combine their writing pedigree with a trailer full of candy-pastel tones and Jamie Dornan and this looked like the lady-comedy we’ve all been waiting for.
Starting with the dictionary definition of culottes, the film sets out its stall early. You’re going to need to know what culottes are, and you’re going to need to embrace the middle-aged, middling vibe. Barbara Streisand and Barry Gibb serenade the opening credits and soon we’re introduced to our heroines, bedecked in beige and coiffed like 80’s moms. Barb (Mumolo) and Star (Wiig) lose their dream jobs at Jennifer Convertibles, the ‘hottest’ store in their most middling of Midwestern towns, Soft Rock, Nebraska.
Early on, Star announces her favourite flavour of Pringles is plain, because she “likes everything plain”. Barb and Star live their small lives in their small town, when suddenly they find themselves pushed out of their comfort zones when they lose those dream jobs. Finding themselves jobless and with pockets full of sweet, sweet severance pay them embark on a “soul douche” and jet off to Florida resort-for-the-middle-aged Vista Del Mar.
Wiig, not content with playing goofy as Star, also gets to play another character, a kind of Gru-from-Despicable-Me-meets-Edna-Mode-from-The–Incredibles baddie, Sharon Gordon Fisherman. With her subterranean lair and gaggle of henchmen, she is hell-bent on exacting a terrible revenge against the people of Vista Del Mar for the kind of absurd reasons you’d expect from a character using killer mosquitos as her device of choice. One of these henchmen is Edgar (Dornan) who is completely besotted with his evil boss/love interest and is carrying out heinous acts on the promise that they will, one day, become an ‘official couple’. Sent off to Vista Del Mar, Edgar soon finds himself crossing paths with Barb and Star to increasingly bizarre ends.
Let’s make no bones about it, Barb and Star is weird as hell. It features song and dance numbers, a mouse orchestra, Jamie Dornan playing the saxophone and an ending that must surely have been the result of eating a great deal of cheese prior to having a nap. In fact, you may find yourself Googling “has Kristin Wiig had COVID?” as a high fever is the only possible explanation behind much of this.
There are moments of high camp and joy, laugh out loud sections so absurd you’ll be wondering if you’re actually napping too and then moments which fall flat. Luckily those moments where the jokes don’t hit are carried by the warmth of the main characters. You begin to root for Barb and Star and hope that they can really begin to blossom. Each woman finds her own path, each of which is just as crazy as the other.
Dornan, too, is an oddly sweet anti-hero. You can feel him revelling in throwing off the shackles (pun intended) of Fifty Shades of Grey as he camps it up singing on the beach and rolling around in the sand.
One area which doesn’t work as well is the revenge plot. Wiig’s villain is not quite daft enough to be able to really carry it off, as it all feels a bit too familiar. Austin Powers did the underground lair thing so much better and when surrounded by such original, bonkers ideas it all feels redundant. The film stutters when we’re taken away from our two heroines and the time would have been better spent exploring more of Barb and Star’s world.
Completely daft, throwaway, fluffy fun, Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar has some terrific high points which outshine the slightly shabbier moments. It is as ephemeral as the cotton candy, but just as sweet. While it won’t have the immediate appeal of Bridesmaids, it feels every bit like a future cult classic of the kind where people will be donning culottes to go to special midnight showings, hot dog soup in hand.