Directed by Josh Greenbaum
Written by Annie Mumolo & Kristen Wiig
The studio comedy seems to be a dying breed. Once a stalwart in a studio’s annual offering, a pretty steady and reliable cash cow that would get butts in seats on a relatively minor budget, comedies seems to be few and far between anymore. Who are the great comedy movie stars anymore? The Will Ferrell/Judd Apatow phase seems to have run its course and not much has come in to replace it since. We’ll get maybe 1 good comedy a year anymore. Much of this has to do with the films just not making enough money. Sure, they were almost always profitable, but they’re not makin a billion dollars like superhero movies do. We all recognize the movie business shifting, but I feel like the small budget comedy is the one genre dying off that not enough people are talking about. Well, this year we at least get this, Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar, a small budget comedy vehicle for Kristen Wiig and her writing partner Annie Mumolo. Whether it’s any good or not may not matter. The genre may be dying regardless.
Barb (Annie Mumolo) and Star (Kristen Wiig) are the best of friends, living their simple but enjoyable life together in small town USA. Both divorced, both stuck in the past in their fashion and interests, the two lose their jobs at the local furniture store, prompting them to look for a change to their hum-drum lives with a vacation to the Florida coast: Vista Del Mar! Upon arriving, they are quite taken by the sunshine and everything the resort has to offer. Often distracted by the smallest things, the pair make quick friends with a sad man named Edgar (Jamie Dornan) at the bar, who is also a secret spy on a mission to destroy Vista Del Mar on behalf of his overbearing boss who is holding a grudge on the town. Edgar shows them the time of their lives, opening up their eyes to what is possible in their drab lives. Star begins to fall for Edgar, but will Barb and Star be able to stop the impending doom on Vista Del Mar?
I have to admit, this movie is super random and weird. At first, I didn’t have any clue what to make of it. Did I hate it? Did I love it? The emotions were truly that wide in my reception of what I was seeing on screen. I think part of this reaction is simply because I haven’t seen many weird, off the wall comedies lately, to call back to my opening commentary. Coming out of the awards season fare which includes plenty of very serious and realistic stories about “important things”, to see something so silly and different was definitely jarring. But upon reflection, I can’t help but feel like Barb and Star was just what I needed to refresh my movie outlook for 2021. There is a lot about this movie watching experience which suffers merely from the circumstances we find ourselves in today.
For instance, I watched this film at home, by myself. In a world where going to the movie theater is not a safe option for so many, watching films at home is the only real way to experience a film. And more than I would say any other genre, the comedy is a community experience. To not have that communal laughter and experience is truly a determent to the movie, but in no way a fault of the movie either, just an unfortunate result of 2020/2021. I think this made my experience with the film very uneven, instead of overly winning. The more I think back on the film and reflect on it, the more I’m reminded of some of the better gags and bits in the movie. Sure, it’s a movie about two middle aged Midwesterners venturing to Florida for the first time, but it’s also about spies, it also features musical numbers. It’s super weird and random, but it knows that about itself and it embraces that!
As a result, I think the movie overall is a little uneven, not everything lands, but largely it is a hell of a fun time and both Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo are winning in their performances. It is evident that these two are real life friends, as their on-screen chemistry is readily apparent, as they share these moments of synchronicity that only real friends could duplicate. Likewise, Jamie Dornan’s deadpan and overly serious performance also suits the film extremely well. His musical number, “Edgar’s Prayer”, was one of my favorite sequences in the film. I think given how I saw this movie, it’s one that will grow in my estimation the further I get away from it, as it already has, as well as the more I see the film. The greatest comedies are endlessly rewatchable, and Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar has plenty going on within it, and I think enough signature moments, that it will become a rewatchable comedy that grows a pretty passionate fan base for those that seek it out and embrace its weirdness.