Courtney Howard is a LAFCA, CCA, OFCS and AWFJ member, as well as a Rotten Tomatometer-approved film critic. Her work has been published on Variety, She Knows and Awards Circuit.
Courtney Howard // Film Critic
BARB & STAR GO TO VISTA DEL MAR
Rated PG-13, 106 minutes
Directed by: Josh Greenbaum
If you don’t know what culottes are before watching BARB & STAR GO TO VISTA DEL MAR, you will be fully familiarized with them by the time this delightfully daffy feature ends. The two middle-aged friends at the heart of this delirious comedic romp mention comfort fashion’s crossbreed of shorts and a skirt, as well as sport them, multiple times. They even become integral to the plot. And this isn’t even the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the bonkers, laugh-out-loud funny stuff real life best friends Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo have written into their script. Akin to the zany hilarity in spoofs like AUSTIN POWERS and those with audacious, acid-trip humor like CABIN BOY and the SPONGEBOB SQUAREPANTS films, director Josh Greenbaum captures a heartening, hilarious odyssey about a maturing female friendship through a comedically kaleidoscopic lens.
Barb (Mumolo) and Star (Wiig) have never been outside of their small, Nebraska town. They are happy as clams, curled up on the sofa, drinking tea discussing whatever random conversation topics spring to mind. After Barb’s husband died and Star’s husband left her, the pair have become inseparable, living together, even showing up to work together at the furniture rental store (Jennifer Convertibles serves as a great, innocent butt of the joke) when it’s not their scheduled shift. It’s clear they’re content living the status quo. However, on the same day they’re unceremoniously fired from their jobs and get kicked out of their women’s group for breaking the rules, run by an unreasonably aggressive bully (Vanessa Bayer), Star begins thinking they’re in need of a major life change.
Their recent chat with local friend Mickey (Wendi McLendon-Covey), who had just returned from a fabulous, soul-renewing vacation in Vista Del Mar off the Florida, got Star thinking that she and Barb also needed to rediscover their shimmer. Barb is, at first, reluctant to go as she’s fearful about the unforeseen dangers that await them going near the ocean, but her bestie’s plea quickly changes her mind. So it’s off to the brightly saturated Miami Beach styled seaside for them, specifically the Vista Del Mar Hotel, where they’re surrounded by similar aged men ogling them and lots of touristy tchotchke carts for them to peruse. But what they don’t know is that villainess Sharon Gordon Fisherman (Wiig, hidden under a raven hair bob, tons of white pancake makeup and outrageous wardrobe Moira Rose would envy) is out for revenge against this town, and she’s sent her handsome henchman Edgar (Jamie Dornan) to plant a destructive device. Barb and Star unwittingly find themselves wrapped up in this situation and more hijinks ensue.
Perhaps what’s best about this funny feature is that Wiig and Mumolo never make situations about laughing at their caricature creations, but rather with them. We feel included in their light-hearted, wholesome talks and jokes, whether it be about eating frog’s legs, old timey body odor, or an imagined story about a woman named Trish who met an untimely end. They really sell the outlandishness of the material with their impeccable timing and character construction. Dornan, who’s been saddled with lackluster material (the FIFTY SHADES series and, most recently WILD MOUNTAIN THYME), does some brilliantly faceted character work. His big musical number, “Edgar’s Prayer” (where he warbles, “Seagull on a tire, can you hear my prayer?”) is an inspired mix of Zac Efron’s “Bet On It” and Kevin Bacon’s angry warehouse dance from FOOTLOOSE, only set on a sandy beach and with more polo shirt ripping.
Steve Saklad’s production design and cinematographer Toby Oliver’s effused, bright color palette augment the narrative’s heightened reality. Greenbaum demonstrates an adroit sense of balancing some of the wilder, riskier bits along with the more subdued, heart-filled undertones. His visual dexterity is on display in the broad gags and two big musical set pieces, which also include Barb and Star’s Busby Berkeley-esque welcome to the Palm Vista Hotel. Steve Welch’s crisp cuts add further electric energy. Richard Cheese’s (Mark Jonathan Davis)piano accompaniment during a few key transitional points for the dynamic duo (where he sings an ode to boobs and, later, laments his high school friends dying), serve the story, but also provide lots of laughs.
Wardrobe, courtesy of costume designer Trayce Gigi Field, is part and parcel to character strengths. While the protagonist pals never divert from dressing differently even though they both experience character growth as individuals (with Barb learning to not be as co-dependent and worrisome and Star valuing her own self-worth), it’s their Chico’s chic that keep them tethered both narratively and aesthetically. As far as the antagonist’s clothing, Edgar earns equal top marks as his tropical wardrobe gives his hard edge henchman a lighter side of which he plays up. Fisherman’s all white avant-garde haute-couture garb serves a functional purpose as well as a fashionable one. And Fisherman’s youngest henchman, Yoyo (Reyn Doi, the film’s MVP), is clearly a robust spoof on GOLDFINGER’s Oddjob, signaled by his distinct black suit.
While this type of loony comedy may not satiate everyone’s tastes, it does provide the perfect antidote to this season’s onslaught of sad movies.
Grade: 4 out of 5
BARB & STAR GO TO VISTA DEL MAR will be available via PVOD on February 12.