Dir: Josh Greenbaum. Cast: Kristen Wiig, Annie Mumolo, Jamie Dornan, Wendi McLendon-Covey and Damon Wayans Jr. 106 minutes
The comedy owes an eternal debt to 2011 Bridesmaids. The antics of stealing puppies, whipping cookies, and dumping the street have pulverized the old myths that women couldn’t be as naughty, rebellious, and weird as their male counterparts. In return, the film opened the doors for him Booksmart, Girls Trip, Blocker, and Hard night – a whole generation of films celebrating the wonderfully chaotic realm of female friendships.
And so it’s exciting to see writers Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo reunite Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar., in the world of culottes, hot dog soup, and shell art. Barb (Mumolo) and Star (Wiig) are two middle-aged Midwesterners – their lungs clogged with hairspray and their mouths small and tense so they don’t evoke true emotions, which they have taught through years of small talk in the suburbs to suppress. After the two of them lost their jobs in the local furniture store (the hottest gig in town), they took the recommendation of their Bougie friend (Wendi McLendon-Covey) and traveled to Vista Del Mar, Florida for the “Soul Douche”.
While there are a lot of jokes here that don’t work – a crab with the voice of Morgan Freeman feels like a refugee from the early 2000s – the sheer amount of material makes the film convince. This is the Jackson Pollock of comedy writing, a cinematic canvas splattered with every possible idea under the sun and merging into a single abstract joy. There are musical numbers, unexpected cameos and a drug journey accompanied by the dubstep remix of “My Heart Will Go On”. Jamie Dornan, from fifty shades of gray Glory, twirling and pirouetting in the sand while serenading a flock of seagulls.
What stands out, even when the film is most inconsistent, is Wiig and Mumolo’s persistent commitment and empathy for the characters they play. Barb and Star have existed since Wiig and Mumulo’s early days in The Groundlings, LA’s famous improvisational troupe, in a kind of nebulous, labor-intensive form. You remain credible in the most incredible situations, always based on the modest uncertainty of having to start over. Barb and Star were married once; Now they are not. “Men find me disgusting and I agree,” Star repeats to himself. The way Wiig giggles and shrugs is cute and silly, but also a bit sad.
Enter Dornan bravely stepping into the role of love interest. Hollywood’s romantic leads should be given the opportunity to prove their lack of vanity by playing a total fool. Dornan passes with flying colors. Barb and Star flirt relentlessly with him as they are surrounded by this downright florid palette of pastels and brights that are both calming and repulsive – a worldly dream world intricately constructed by director Josh Greenbaum, cinematographer Toby Oliver, and production designer Steve Saklad.
The film’s mysterious villain, played by Wiig in the same guise as Tim Burton’s Willy Wonka, is less of a natural fit, pale as the moon with a pitch-black Joan of Arc. The character is too shy and conservative to really work – her most eccentric habits are a love of mixing soda flavors and a fear of engagement. Their conspiracy involves the use of genetically modified mosquitoes, all of which are now deadly, despite the fact that they already hold the title of the most dangerous creature on earth. Every moment she is on screen inevitably feels like a distraction. The real joy is to spend time in the strange, innocent and blissful world of Barb and Star.