You’d be well within your rights to wonder if Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo’s titular Barb and Star are characters ripped straight out of an SNL sketch from the late 2000s. After all, Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar has a lot of the irreverent energy of Macgruber and the stealthily sweet buddy dynamic of A Night at the Roxbury and The Blues Brothers. But no, Vista Del Mar is very much its own thing in more ways than one, arriving off of a screenplay penned by Wiig and Mumolo themselves with Funny or Die alum Josh Greenbaum as director.
This bizarre union of modern web comedy with the throwback “Midwesterners vacation in Florida” aesthetic certainly isn’t one that will turn a lot of coiffed heads who only catch the synopsis. On paper, the film’s premise isn’t all that wacky, as the story follows two life-long best friends — Barb, played by Mumolo, and Star, played by Wiig — who decide to shake up their lives a bit by escaping their hum-drum town (where a failing furniture store is naturally considered its hottest spot) and visiting the sun-soaked resort destination known as Vista Del Mar.
But it just so happens that these humble getaway plans manage to coincide with the maniacal plot of Dr. Lady (also played by Wiig), a revenge-obsessed supervillian who has white skin because she’s literally allergic to the sun. Her henchmen include the affably Kronk-like Edgar Paget (Jamie Dornan), who longs to be in an official couple, as well as Yoyo (Reyn Dom), a prepubescent boy who carries out Dr. Lady’s most sinister orders without an ounce of remorse. Together, they attempt to aid in Dr. Lady’s diabolical plan to unleash a deadly plague upon all of the citizens of Vista Del Mar. See? Not that wacky.
One of the film’s sweetest surprises is its own sense of comedic pacing. The first segment of Barb and Star is oddly slow and patient with its absurdism, which is saying a lot because it is certainly out there early on. But the film wonderfully sticks its hooks into the audience before anyone might want to check out, and it does so by carefully making sure we have more than enough reasons to care about Barb and Star as if they’re family. By the film’s second act, Barb and Star’s pure, matching-bracelet-approved friendship becomes far too investing for even the coldest hearts to overlook. And from there, Barb and Star goes full-tilt into being a cult comedy, and maybe even a cult classic in the making, with some of the most genuine and inspired gags to hit the screen in recent memory.
Truth is stranger than fiction, but Barb and Star tries its hardest to disprove this idiom and then some, opting to flirt with talking crabs and literal parachute pants, as if Wiig and Mumolo decided it was finally time for Hollywood to one-up The SpongeBob Squarepants Movie. Just about every minute of the film is packed with pause-button-required humor, satisfying callbacks, understated visual comedy, and truly inventive punchlines that even manage to make a perfectly-timed fart joke smell fresh.
Vista Del Mar itself is a wonderland of one-liners and seemingly random oddities, from its sympathetically crass piano man to a cannon that can shoot human beings far out into the deep blue ocean, where they might just come across a water spirit played by…well, that would be spoiling the fun. But at the center of all this goofball nonsense are the two beating hearts of Barb and Star, whose friendship is tested by love triangles, Tommy Bahama (played by himself), and the understandable distractions of a seashell stand.
And honestly, this is just scratching the surface of all the comedic treasures and pleasures to be found in Barb and Star, whose only grave sin is coming out on Valentine’s Day weekend instead of July 4th, when audiences will hopefully be allowed to see it in a packed room full of people who can’t stop laughing and the poor, unfortunate souls who can’t, for whatever reason, get on Barb and Star’s banana boat wavelength.
Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar is a Lionsgate release and currently available On Demand for rent.
Photo credit: Cate Cameron/Lionsgate