Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar review: This absurd delight is the Jackson Pollock of comedy writing

While there are plenty of jokes here that don’t work, the film wins out by its sheer quantity of material

Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar trailer

Dir: Josh Greenbaum. Starring: Kristen Wiig, Annie Mumolo, Jamie Dornan, Wendi McLendon-Covey, Damon Wayans Jr. 106 mins

Comedy owes an eternal debt to 2011’s Bridesmaids. Its puppy-stealing, cookie-punching, street-defecating antics pulverised the old myths that women couldn’t be just as bawdy, rebellious, and weird as their male counterparts. In turn, the film flung open the doors for Booksmart, Girls Trip, Blockers, and Rough Night – an entire generation of films that celebrate the gloriously messy realm of female friendships.

And so it’s thrilling to see its writers, Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo, reunite for Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar, set in the world of culottes, hot dog soup, and shell art. Barb (Mumolo) and Star (Wiig) are two middle-aged Midwesterners – their lungs choked with hairspray and their mouths small and tense, lest they blurt out the true feelings that years of suburban small talk have taught them to suppress. Having lost their jobs at the local furniture store (the hottest gig in town), the pair take up their bougie friend’s (Wendi McLendon-Covey) recommendation and travel to Florida’s Vista Del Mar for “soul douche”.

While there are plenty of jokes here that don’t work – a crab with the voice of Morgan Freeman feels like a fugitive from the early 2000s – the film wins out by its sheer quantity of material. This is the Jackson Pollock of comedy writing, a cinematic canvas splattered with every possible idea under the sun, all coalesced into a single, abstract delight. There are musical numbers, unexpected cameos, and a drug trip soundtracked by the dubstep remix of “My Heart Will Go On”. Jamie Dornan, of Fifty Shades of Grey fame, does twirls and pirouettes in the sand while serenading a flock of seagulls.

What stands out, even when the film is at its most inconsistent, is Wiig and Mumolo’s persistent dedication to – and empathy for – the characters they’re playing. Barb and Star have existed in some kind of nebulous, workshopped form since Wiig and Mumulo’s early days in The Groundlings, LA’s famous improv troupe. They remain believable in the most unbelievable of situations, perpetually grounded in the modest insecurities of having to start afresh. Barb and Star were married once; now, they’re not. “Men find me disgusting, and I’m OK with it,” Star repeats to herself. The way Wiig chuckles and shrugs off the line is cute and dorky, but also a little sad.

Jamie Dornan, of ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ fame, valiantly steps into the role of love interest

Enter Dornan, who valiantly steps into the role of love interest. Hollywood’s romantic leads should all be given the chance to prove their lack of vanity by playing a total goofball. Dornan certainly passes with flying colours. Barb and Star flirt with him relentlessly, all while surrounded by that distinctly Floridian palette of pastels and brights that manages to be soothing and repulsive at the same time – a mundane dream world intricately constructed by director Josh Greenbaum, cinematographer Toby Oliver, and production designer Steve Saklad.

Less of a natural fit is the film’s mysterious villain, which Wiig plays in the same garb as Tim Burton’s Willy Wonka, pale as the moon with a pitch-black, Joan of Arc do. The character’s too timid and conservative to really work – her most eccentric habits are a love of mixing soda flavours and a fear of commitment. Her plot involves the deployment of genetically modified mosquitoes, now all lethal killers, despite already holding the title of Earth’s most dangerous creature. Every moment she’s on screen feels, inevitably, like a distraction. The real joy is spending time in the strange, innocent and blissful world of Barb and Star.

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