Comedy can be subjective. What one person finds funny, another will not. I have no doubt that it is possible to go out and read many reviews which describe “Barb & Star go to Vista Del Mar” as a “comedic triumph” or refer to it as a “laugh riot” or a “crashing success.” This review is not one of them. The Kristen Wiig-Annie Mumolo film (the two wrote it, produced it, and star in it) isn’t bad, but it is something of a mess. More jokes fail than succeed, the plot is (purposefully) ludicrous, and it all goes on far longer than necessary.
At this point it is again incumbent upon me to say that the movie is not bad exactly. Certainly, the characters at its center, Barb (Mumolo) and Star (Wiig), have their moments. The two are middle-aged, middle America, caricatures. They live in something of an oblivious delirium and are excited by everything. They want nothing more than to spend their days at their dream job at Jennifer Convertibles (if one has a shift, the other comes along) and just sit and talk.
Watching them talk for 90 minutes might actually make for something of a great movie. They may not have anything truly deep to offer, but there’s an infectiousness to their enthusiasm that ought not be denied. But, their sitting and gabbing isn’t what we get here. Instead, as the title of the movie says, they go to Vista Del Mar.
It is wrong to say that it is at that moment when things become outlandish, because they’re outlandish from the moment the movie opens. Before we ever meet Barb and Star, we meet Yoyo (Reyn Doi), Edgar (Jamie Dornan), and Sharon Gordon Fisherman (also Wiig). Fisherman and her team, of which Yoyo and Edgar are part, are planning to kill everyone in Vista Del Mar using an unnecessarily complicated mosquito scheme. Edgar, who pines for and is led on by Fisherman, is sent off to make sure the mosquitoes do their job.
There are few moments of surprise or awe or bewilderment in the film (if one chooses to not think too much about the mosquito stuff). There are few surprises from the very outset. Every scene that takes place is relatively predictable and so very many of the jokes are telegraphed.
Even a musical number, funny though it is, has the sense of the expected. A second one is slightly less expected, but the notion that this is a musical in any way kind of peters out from that point forward. Although this is not a surprise, as the songs and choreography were funny moving away from them is a disappointing choice. It is also one that furthers the overall sense that Wiig, Mumolo, and director Josh Greenbaum decided to just throw everything at the wall to see what would stick.
In the end, what keeps it the whole thing going when it might otherwise completely crumble are the title characters. Barb and Star manage to make their way from seeming like “SNL” TV sketch caricatures to “SNL” feature film ones and there is just enough silliness surrounding them to allow it to continue. Plus, the movie is always good for a cameo or two.
Dornan is quite enjoyable as the all too easily enraptured Edgar as well. He manages to make the character naïve and charming at the same time. While his story doesn’t carry twists and turns, Dornan makes Edgar’s shifting love surprising to the character even if we all see it coming.
“Barb & Star” is also beautifully colorful. The world as a whole is eye-poppingly bright and hyper-real. It is entrancing in a way that helps suck the audience into the lives of these two culotte-wearing women.
It is almost impossible to walk away from “Barb & Star go to Vista Del Mar” hating what you’ve seen. It has chuckles here and there and will put a smile on your face more often than it provides a laugh. Sloppy in some of its execution, Wiig and Mumolo give the movie everything they have, pulling it across the finish line through sheer force of will. One leaves it actually wanting to see the characters again, especially if it’s in a better movie.
photo credit: Lionsgate