The 400-Word Review: Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar
By Sean Collier
February 12, 2021
There’s a pervasive “Saturday Night Live” influence in “Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar,” and it stretches beyond the presence of “SNL” standout Kristen Wiig. In many moments, the film feels like an extended sketch on the venerable late-night show, with plenty of the series’ hallmarks: deadpan sincerity from its characters, absurdist bits of magical realism, unexpected cameos and transitions into broad musical numbers.
This is not, however, the kind of sketch that makes it to the best-of compilations. “Barb and Star” feels like a scene that occasionally provokes a laugh due to the skill of its performers, but never finds its rhythm — or, truthfully, any reason to exist.
Like many recent comedies, it’s a tale of threatened friendship. Midwestern, middle-aged buddies Barb (Annie Mumolo) and Star (Wiig) take a trip to a gaudy Floridian resort, and find their bond threatened by mutual affection for a hunky, lovelorn fellow traveler (Jamie Dornan).
That’s not where we open, however (Strictly speaking, we open on a title card offering the definition of culottes; the versatile pant will be a recurring character). We open by setting up a bizarre, “Austin Powers”-esque supervillain plot; a bitter madwoman (also Wiig) is planning revenge on the town of Vista Del Mar, a scheme which will coincide with Barb and Star’s getaway.
These plots will eventually collide — Dornan’s sad-sack hunk is the link — but Barb and Star spend most of the film tied up in their own drama at the faux-posh resort (slogan: “Where luxury meets coconuts”). The revenge story feels as though someone dashed into a pitch meeting and suggested adding an out-of-date bit of action slapstick to an unrelated film — and Wiig and Mumolo simply agreed.
The pair wrote the film, their first teaming since the Oscar-nominated “Bridesmaids.” That film was everything “Barb and Star” is not — grounded, real and heartfelt, able to draw broad laughs while also relying on fundamentally human characters. Here, Barb and Star are send-ups of a certain middle-American plainness; while they’re sometimes funny, they never resemble human beings.
There’s also an uncomfortable punching-down in the central subject, a mockery of the ways many people take vacations. A tacky resort vacation may be gauche for some, but I don’t see the need to mock regular folks unwinding at the beach — particularly when even the simple pleasures depicted here are beyond the means of many.
My Rating: 3/10
“Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar” is available via digital on-demand services.