Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar (Film Review)

Last Updated on August 5, 2021

PLOT: After losing their dream job, best friends Barb (Annie Mumolo) and Star (Kristen Wiig) decide to go on a vacation to the scenic Vista Del Mar, only to discover there's more in store for them than soaking up the sun and rides on banana boats. 

REVIEW: With its tenth anniversary approaching we celebrate the release of the still incredible Bridesmaids, which netted writers Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo well-deserved Oscar nominations for the screenplay. A far-too-long decade later they’re back with their follow-up feature – Barb & Star Go to Vista Del Mar – and this time the two are leading the comedy together as the titular best friends. Their previous movie took a grounded-yet-riotous look at female friendship and how we continue to grow into adulthood, and with Barb & Star they tackle similar themes, while at the same time saying, “F**k it, let’s go crazy with it.” The result is a comedy that gleefully abandons all reason and normalcy across a scenic escape that’s as bright and colorful as it is effortlessly hilarious.

Two Midwestern, middle-aged besties who bond over all varieties of culottes (and literally everything else), sporting thick accents to match their feathered hair, the duo are inseparable, and their bond and natural chemistry make them loveable right from the start. This makes it easy to strap in with them as they head to the other side of the country to find a “soul-douching” adventure at the tropical resort Vista Del Mar, hoping to take in the sun, buy as much shell jewelry as possible maybe even ride the banana boats. Mumolo as Barb and Wiig as Star perform alongside each other like two perfect scene partners who have spent a lifetime bouncing off each other and crafting their characters together.

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The vacation comedy angle may not sound as refreshing as an actual island getaway, but what quickly sets Barb & Star apart is how unabashedly strange it all is. Whether it’s the out-of-left-field one-liners or digging their shoes into a bit and not letting up, everything about the script and the performances from Wiig and Mumolo hint their vision from the get-go was to embrace as much silliness and vibrant fun as possible, no matter how random. Only a few minutes after the two finish their flight-long discussion over all the merits women named “Trish” have, they are sucked into a festive musical number upon entering the fabulous hotel – only for them to realize they’re at the wrong hotel – leading to a moment of deadpan comedy. That span of time alone is just one instance where you may be wondering what the hell just happened over the last 5-10 minutes, but not for one of those minutes will you regret it, with kudos to director Josh Greenbaum (in his narrative feature debut) for knowing exactly what level(s) of funny he’s working with, and having the good sense to let Wiig and Mumolo take off as high as they can go.  

On that note, it goes without saying — but indeed must be said again and again until everyone in the world accepts it as common knowledge — that Wiig and Mumolo are comedic geniuses. Mumolo as Barb and Wiig as Star perform alongside each other like two perfect scene partners who have spent a lifetime bouncing off each other and crafting their characters together. Their timing and responses are so quick and intuitive it's hard to see where the script ends and possible improv takes over. Here they stand as a pitch-perfect comedic duo, with an unlimited supply of jokes and love between each other. 

While “spoiler warnings” are often saved for the latest superhero blockbusters and whatever Christopher Nolan gets up to, I feel that Barb & Star actually warrants a small one. That’s because even though it would’ve been much easier and more cost-effective to tell a story about two friends vacationing and hi-jinking on a tropical resort and stick solely to that, Wiig and Mumolo decided “Nah, we can do much, much more.” Enter what is essentially their take on a James Bond villain plot, wherein (before we even meet our titular characters, BTW), Wiig, affixed with a sort of bowl cut, lavish white gown, skin as pale as the moon, and hanging out in a lair, plots to destroy Vista Del Mar by unleashing mosquitos on the population. Does this angle need to be there? Absolutely not. The two threads of this and the vacation itself don’t often come together well aside from Jamie Dornan’s Edgar being an undercover operative, but, in the end, it all adds to the sheer lunacy and gives Wiig yet more material to chew on – and she does so brilliantly.

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For all its welcome outlandishness, the themes being explored – namely the friendship between Barb and Star – doesn’t feel as fresh as the rest of the movie. As the two begin to grow apart over the course of the movie – with Wiig having constant sex with Dornan (who gets to have his own chances to be quite funny and let loose) and Mumolo getting a bit jealous, sending her on her own path to find adventure – we see their bond tested in a rather expected way. Of course, we know they’ll be upset with each other for lying, and seeing the two come back together so easily should be seen coming a mile away. There’s not a lot of room among all the high strangeness for a ton of genuine emotion beyond some general sweetness, but that also means the idea that friendship can overcome literally anything, even a plot to end the world, is perfectly at home in such a breezy comedy.

Barb & Star is absolutely bizarre, and more often than not, in the best ways. Along with the added benefit of sweeping you off to an ocean-side vacation when such a thing seems taboo at this point in human history, there is nothing about the movie that demands more from you than to sit back, relax and laugh your ass off. Wiig and Mumolo are perfectly in-sync and at peak funny here, and the whole thing is brought to life with a vision that embraces every avenue to make something colorful and every aspect strange and hilarious. There’s so much about the movie that makes it worth a trip worth taking, and here’s to more of these Midwestern besties, perhaps next time thwarting a terrorist plot along the coast of Spain.


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