Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar
The Bridesmaids screenwriters return with an original but narratively stale comedy
Bridesmaids (2011) was a groundbreaking and pioneering film. It was revolutionary in how it portrayed and liberated female characters in comedies, by lifting any barriers or limits to what goofy, lewd, or crazy things they could do. As a result, the film launched the careers of some of the most defining comedians of the last decade, from Melissa McCarthy, to Maya Rudolph, and Rose Byrne. The screenwriters of the historical comedy were fellow actors Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo, who were nominated for an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay. The pair have returned with their first writing and starring project since Bridesmaids with Barb and Star Go to Vista del Mar (2021).
Barb and Star Go to Vista del Mar follows the two titular characters, Barb (Annie Mumolo) and Star (Kristen Wiig) as two middle-aged women in Nebraska, who seek to break through the routine of their lives. They thus head for a weeklong vacation to the Florida resort town Vista del Mar, leaving their hometown for the first time in their lives.
The film is directed by Josh Greenbaum, in his first feature film that isn’t a documentary. The American director had been cutting his teeth on television for a while, and has been honing his skill in TV comedies, which helps bring a quick witty rhythm to Barb and Star. As with Bridesmaids the script by Wiig and Mumolo is sharp and fast and doesn’t rely on references to the current trendy themes, celebrities, or songs. This is refreshing as it becomes an easily accessible comedy for all. The laughs are constructed out of a sense of randomness and originality, pitting silly and goofy characters against each other. In many ways the comedic structure is reminiscent of the style of Mel Brooks, in how he would dig into relatable aspects or humor rather than a very specific cultural one.
It is curious that after breaking ground with female characters in comedy, the next group that the pioneering filmmakers would tackle would be that of the middle-aged woman. Hollywood has long ignored this age demographic in women, having the middle age become a desert of roles for women as they are between the romantic leads or the past and the mothers and witches they can play in the future. As the Bridesmaids creators aged into this group, it’s great that they have set their mind on breaking through this particular stigma as well. Sadly, with the absence of a proper box office roll-out, it will be impossible to tell if this film would have the same cultural impact or financial success as Bridesmaids did.
The core of the film lies in Barb and Star’s friendship and chemistry, and thankfully Mumolo and Wiig are great in their roles. They play off of each other with the sense of a decades-long friendship, to the point that you can imagine both of the characters having been part of a long-running Saturday Night Live (1975-) sketch, or some old film franchise. This is a credit to the correlation of the writing and performances of each character, which gives them a sense of being classic film characters.
While Barb and Star is made up of funny skits or comedic moments, its greater flaws involve the actual ensuing narrative. A plot involving a James Bond-like villain (also played by Wiig), wanting to destroy Vista del Mar doesn’t fit well with the narrative, and falls into unfunny cliches the likes of which we’ve seen exploited to death in the Austin Powers films. Jamie Dornan stars in the film as a potential love interest to the pair of protagonists, but his character is extremely flat and his connection to Barb and Star doesn’t congeal in a satisfying way. In fact, much of the characters remain caricatures; in a parody this would make sense, but Barb and Star isn’t parodying anything specific, thus leading the narrative to appear stale and uneven.
That’s not to say that Barb and Star isn’t an enjoyable movie. I had a fun time and laughed at certain individual moments. The comedy style is certainly refreshing and original in comparison to a lot of films today, and the chemistry between the lead actresses is delicious. However, as the film begins to pull its focus from the skit-like scenes and onto the conclusion of its narrative, its weak construction is laid bare, leading you to seem disinterested in the fate of the story or the characters.