12th Feb2021

‘Barb and Star Go To Vista Del Mar’ Review

by Matthew Turner

Stars: Kristen Wiig, Annie Mumolo, Jamie Dornan, Damon Wayans Jr., Michael Hitchcock, Reyn Doi, Vanessa Bayer, Phyllis Smith, Mark Jonathan Davis | Written by Annie Mumolo, Kristen Wiig | Directed by Josh Greenbaum

The tagline for this delightfully bonkers new comedy reads “The friendship we all want. The vacation we all need.” That’s a pretty perfect promotional line, given that we’re almost a year into a global pandemic where many of us can’t even go to a cinema, let alone on holiday. Thankfully, Barb and Star Go To Vista Del Mar delivers on its promise of unashamedly silly escapism, thanks to a consistently surprising script and charming comic chemistry between its two leads.

Annie Mumolo and Kristen Wiig (who also co-wrote the script) star as Barb and Star, two middle-aged best friends who decide to leave their small Midwestern town and take the holiday of a lifetime in the Florida resort of Vista Del Mar. Upon arrival, they both fall head over heels for fellow hotel guest Edgar (Jamie Dornan), which complicates their friendship. However, that’s the least of their problems, as Edgar is secretly working for evil villainess Sharon Gordon Fisherman (Wiig again, nearly unrecognisable in Cruella de Vil-ish make-up), who has hatched a fiendish plot to kill everyone in town.

Barb and Star Go To Vista Del Mar is packed with ridiculous nonsense from beginning to end, from a throwaway gag involving mice playing instruments, to a cameo from the voice of Morgan Freeman as, um, a philosophical talking crab. In all honesty, it shouldn’t work, but somehow it does, serving up a cheerful mix of warm character comedy, off-the-wall weirdness and a comic-book-style plot, with the occasional song-and-dance number thrown in for good measure.

The charming comic chemistry between Wiig and Mumolo is a large part of what makes the film tick – as Star and Barb, they’re both believable friends and enormously likable characters, perpetually upbeat even when they’re mad at each other. Similarly, the actors are clearly enjoying themselves and that proves infectious.

The supporting cast are good value too. Wiig camps it up a treat in her second role as Sharon Gordon Fisherman and there’s a very funny comic turn from child actor Reyn Doi as her genius henchman Yoyo. If anything, he’s under-used, but either way, it’s certain we’ll be seeing him again. On top of that, Damon Wayans Jr is amusing as an undercover henchman who keeps revealing too much information, though you strongly suspect his part has been cut down, as there are moments in the trailer that aren’t in the film.

As for Jamie Dornan, he’s not exactly a gifted comic actor, but at least he’s trying, even if you can’t escape the nagging thought that he was only cast as the lusted-after male lead because of his connection to the Fifty Shades of Grey movies. At any rate, he gamely throws himself into a musical number and manages to achieve a sort of naïve sweetness that just about works, perhaps because it gives him an excuse to look constantly bewildered.

Visually, the look of the film is insanely bright and colourful, to the point where it almost hurts your eyes to look at it. That’s presumably meant to reflect the way Barb and Star see the world, in which case the film could maybe have cut away from it occasionally to underline the joke.

It’s fair to say that not all the jokes work and that the film lacks a big, laugh-out-loud set-piece, but the gag-rate is extremely high, ensuring a steady stream of mild chuckles, if not out-and-out guffaws. It’s also worth acknowledging that some of the gags are very clever – for example, there’s a mobile phone joke that only works because of the established tone of the film.

In short, Barb and Star Go To Vista Del Mar isn’t going to appeal to everyone, but if you’re prepared to surrender to the silliness, you’ll find yourself goofily grinning from ear to ear, even if it’s against your better judgment.

***½  3.5/5

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