Annie Mumolo and Kristen Wiig headline what is sure to be one of the most unique films of 2021

By: Steve Pulaski

Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar is very much like a wave. You either ride it, attempt to and sink like a stone, or completely ignore it. I rode it till the credits came and loved every minute of the deliriously silly ride.

A candy-colored joy that would’ve exploded on the screen last summer, Josh Greenbaum’s delightfully absurd romp is everything you want in poppy escapism. The costumes are gaudy, the photography is spectacular, the humor is ceaseless, and it does what initially seemed impossible: give Jamie Dornan an ounce of charisma.

The film’s cowriters Annie Mumolo and Kristen Wiig play Barb and Star, respectively. They’re two single, middle-aged gal-pals from Nebraska who talk with a Yooper dialect. The two go everywhere and do everything together; they even work at the same furniture store where they spend most of their time babbling. When the store shuts down, they are coerced by a friend into shaking their lives up for the better and traveling to Vista Del Mar. They assume they’ll be in for bottomless margs and endless relaxation.

Bear with me here. What Barb and Star don’t realize is a mad scientist (also played by Wiig) plans to get her revenge on the tourist destination by unleashing a swarm of deadly mosquitos during the annual Seafood Jam. She sends her henchman Edgar (Dornan) to plant the transmitter that will attract the bugs. Barb and Star wind up finding Edgar in a bar and have a drug-fueled rendezvous with the dapper gentleman. The two friends are then in the midst of their first rivalry with Edgar as the prize.

It doesn’t take long to realize the plot is total folderol. Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar has no desire to exist in any conceivable plain of reality. The spontaneous musical numbers, the parachuting culottes, and talking crab with a familiar voice make that abundantly clear. Besides the cornucopia of vibrant colors, the genuine affection Mumolo and Wiig have for their characters (and one another) is the foundational glue for what’s sure to be one of the most unique films of the year. Consider the plane-ride to Vista Del Mar, where Barb and Star pass the time by describing the various attributes of a hypothetical woman named “Trish” (both agree it’s the best name in the universe). You get the feeling it’s all improv because it very well could’ve been. Moreover, you get the feeling Mumolo and Wiig have had this conversational diversion in their personal lives. In a film where nothing feels realistic, everything feels natural — a rare feat indeed.

This material would all-but crumble without the energy of Mumolo and Wiig at the forefront, but give credit to Greenbaum and editor Steve Welch. Greenbaum understands when a joke can lose its luster, preferring to cut too early as opposed to too late. Welch stitches it together with a rhythmic energy, reaching a creative high when the film’s lone use of the f-word is cutely subverted. Cinematographer Toby Oliver (Get Out) gives similar attention-to-detail in the visual department that Quyen Tran gave to last year’s surprise Palm Springs, highlighting aqua water and the corresponding beachy atmosphere.

There’s also the soundtrack. If such originals like “I Love Boobies” and “Edgar’s Prayer” don’t amuse you, there’s strong uses of favorites like Bertie Higgins’ “Florida” coupled with a warped, druggy sendup of Jimmy Buffett’s “Cheeseburger in Paradise” to do the job.

You’ll probably know after the trailer whether or not you want to see Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar. I recall seeing the trailers early last year and hearing whispered feedback from fellow theatergoers expressing confusion when it ended. I was already sold, albeit cautiously optimistic. Coming a decade after the two collaborated to make Bridesmaids, I’m elated to say Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar is Annie Mumolo and Kristen Wiig’s comic opus thus far. This is what cult classics are made of.

NOTE: Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar is now available to rent on Amazon Prime Video, Google Play, YouTube, and more.

Grade: A-