Movie Review ~ Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar

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The Facts
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Synopsis: Lifelong friends Barb and Star embark on the adventure of a lifetime when they decide to leave their small Midwestern town for the first time – ever.

Stars: Kristen Wiig, Annie Mumolo, Jamie Dornan, Damon Wayans Jr., Vanessa Bayer, Fortune Feimster, Phyllis Smith, Ian Gomez, Michael Hitchcock, Wendi McLendon-Covey, Reyn Doi

Director: Josh Greenbaum

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 107 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (9/10)

Review: There are some movies that just come along at the right time in your life, appearing when you need them the most and the week that I was set to see Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar was a rough one.  It just wasn’t great, let’s leave it at that and so I selfishly looked to a film, of all things, to cheer me up.  Putting all my eggs in one basket, I bet the farm on this pastel-colored comedy that had all the makings of a winner but also could have easily gone into stink bomb mode pretty quickly too.  Let me tell you, perhaps I’d watch the movie now with a slightly more critical eye but after all the junk we’ve been through these past few months and all my own hang-ups from the week, the film was like a peach-scented salve to my soul for two hours.  It’s also rip-roaringly, smile so wide your cheek burns, hysterically funny.

In 2011, Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo were dark horse Oscar nominees for their original screenplay of Bridesmaids, the blockbuster comedy hit that set off a wave of female-led funny flicks.  It was almost as if Hollywood and movie-goers discovered that women could make you laugh and not just by acting like men or always resorting to foul, gross-out humor (which Bridesmaids totally did, let’s be honest).  It was a well-earned nomination and while Mumolo turned up in a small but memorable role as a airline passenger with a fear of flying and was seated next to Wiig, it isn’t hard to imagine the two writing the movie with themselves in mind as the stars instead of the inimitable Maya Rudolph playing opposite Wiig..

Since that time, Wiig has gone on to become one of the rare alums of Saturday Night Live to find an interesting career after her tenure on the show has ended and while she continues to make challenging choices in film, the roles haven’t always panned out in her favor.  Perhaps her most intriguing character was just recently as the more interesting of the two villains in Wonder Woman 1984 but that movie was so unjustly ignored that her contributions were also left by the wayside.  For Mumolo, she’s continued a bit under the radar, acting in films like Bad Moms and writing the script for Joy, the Jennifer Lawrence/David O. Russell misfire that still managed to nab Lawrence an Oscar nom.

Thankfully, during their busy schedule the two managed to find time to collaborate on the script for Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar and both share the screen as the co-leads.  What is immediately clear is that the two women have a deep understanding of not just their talents but in what the other is capable of and every inch of the movie plays to these strengths.  Recognizing that nothing gets done in a vacuum, they’ve also created some wonderfully weird supporting characters that are taken on by some obvious choices and by others that may not make sense at first.  Have no fear, because director Josh Greenbaum (The Short Game) has only the best intentions and steers even those not known for comedy into funny waters and gets them swimming fast.

You may think you’ve hit “play” on the wrong movie once this begins, as the opening features one of the first surprises the film has to offer. (It’s worth it to note that while the trailers for the film were riotous, hardly any of that material is in the actual film).  I’m not even going to mention what (or who) that surprise is here and by holding that back it keeps certain other plot developments off limits.  That means much of the rest of this review will be working around what I can’t talk about and going heavy on what I can.  I figure if the trailers have gone to great lengths to keep aspects of the movie a secret, it’s worth it for your benefit to let you discover what the movie is on your own…but just know that eventually you’re going to meet our fabulous ladies, recently unemployed and daring to try something new.

Arriving in Vista Del Mar to great fanfare and a musical welcome from the ritzy resort hotel’s manager (Michael Hitchcock, Waiting for Guffman), Barb (Mumolo) and Star (Wiig) waste little time getting to know the layout of the space and meet a handsome stranger (Jamie Dornan, Fifty Shades Freed) in town for business.  As a romance develops between the stranger and one of the women, the other is left to go from mild to wild as she chucks her inhibitions and becomes a coal-walking, parasailing risk-taker.  What will the women do, though, when they realize they’ve come all this way to experience the trip of a lifetime together and have spent much of their vacation apart?

I was worried in early previews that the film would be too broad and feature comedy that amused the actors making the movie more than the audience watching the film, but the laughs are so sharp and so perfectly pitched that you have to really respect how nicely the movie is put together.  There are some seriously big laughs to be had and whether this was edited with a theater-going public in mind or not, you are always able to hear the next joke — it’s a rare marvel to find that every punchline is clear without any throwaway jokes.  Wiig and Mumolo don’t like wasted gags so they maximize the chuckles in each chintzy chortle.

That’s not to say it’s a perfect film.  There’s at least one character I would have excised completely because not only is his role markedly unfunny and he has the stalest jokes out of everyone in the picture, his ultimate value-add to the plot is pretty slim.  And while I enjoyed the “talking club” of ladies led with strongly pursed lips and a leveled stare by Vanessa Bayer (Office Christmas Party) in Barb and Star’s hometown, their contribution again felt unresolved and more filler than forwarding of the plot.  That whole broad business I was talking about a few lines up?  The film teeters slightly that way for its finale where it finds a wrap up that earns the warranted laugh (and a bonus surprise) while at the same time feeling like a bit of a cheat.

Small imperfections aside, there’s so much good and goodness on display that you won’t mind or have much time to ponder these items. The film moves so fast and the performances by the two leads are right on target, not to mention the full-on revelation that Dornan is quite talented when he lets his guard down and takes his serious shirt and slacks off (quite literally to the screaming delight of those in the film and, I’m sure, watching it).  In a film of many worthwhile surprises, his hidden talent displayed on a beach is perhaps the most impressive of all.

It’s a cliché to say you didn’t want a movie to end but it’s true, I was sad to see my journey with these ladies come to a conclusion and I can only hope that there’d be another adventure at some point down the road.  I know the two politely declined to write a follow-up to Bridesmaids and I can understand there not being another story there…but Barb and Star are just getting started.  So while Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar may look a bit iffy from the outside looking in, trust me when I say that you’ll be glad you traveled with them…and it might even do wonders for your spirit as well.  Mine sure felt lifted after.