‘There are good ships. And wood ships. And ships that sail the sea. But the best ships are friendships. And may they always be.’
The world of cinema is a fast-moving thing. For every big budget blockbuster, there’s an Oscar-worthy drama, a spine-chilling horror or a stitch-inducing comedy movie just waiting in the wings to take the spotlight. Sometimes, these films change the path of cinema forever and imbed themselves so firmly in the popular culture that everything shifts; Titanic brought emotional drama and blockbuster filmmaking together on a huge scale for the first time; The Lord Of The Rings trilogy proved that fantasy blockbusters could win Academy awards; and Anchorman showed us that even the most ridiculous comedy can cement itself in movie history.
That last example is important.
Barb And Star Go To Vista Del Mar is a comedy film written by and starring Annie Mumolo and Kristen Wiig as the titular Barb and Star, two middle-aged best friends who find themselves with an opportunity to take a vacation away from their small, midwestern hometown – and choose to visit the tropical resort of Vista Del Mar, Florida; unwittingly finding themselves mixed up in a plot for deadly revenge…
This film is incredibly silly, and that is the highest compliment in this circumstance. It’s clear that Wiig and Mumolo set out to have a lot of fun with the project, and director Josh Greenbaum helped realise that vision beautifully, starting with the framing of the primary locations. The unnamed town that Barb and Star call home is reminiscent to anyone who has lived in, or seen media set in, small town America; with plenty of wood panelling, gingham prints and cutesy nicknacks all around to help demonstrate Barb and Star’s characters beyond Wiig and Mumolo’s performances. This locale is paralleled perfectly when we land in Vista Del Mar; with beaming sunshine, bright colours, beautiful vistas and colourful background characters establishing the stark difference Barb and Star have arrived in, compared to their regular lives; something which is perfectly framed to introduce them to the shenanigans they are about to engage in.
Mumolo and Wiig bring Barb and Star to life brilliantly, with performances that are just over the top enough to be consistently funny and engaging, without getting distracting or annoying; a pair of performances that deserve to draw a parallel in tone and execution to that of the central cast of Anchorman. They clearly have a lot of love for these characters, and for each other; their on-screen chemistry is palpable at all times, and they’re a joy to see together – but they also both have the skills to hold their own during a portion of the film where the two characters are separated and embarking on their own journeys within the wider narrative. Mumolo in particular flourishes in a leading role, and some of my favourite moments in the film were firmly centred around Barb.
Of course, Wiig and Mumolo aren’t going alone here, and the supporting cast also does incredible work. Jamie Dornan is Edgar, and simultaneously plays the primary romantic interest for our leading ladies, and their primary villain. Dornan is, frankly, incredible here; and is clearly relishing the opportunity to step away from the serious roles which he is famous for and have a little fun. Edgar is a great character; far beyond the usual attractive head henchman archetype, even from other comedy action movies; Dornan brings a lot of heart to a surprisingly complex role, and is central to a lot of humour too; working brilliantly with both Wiig and Mumolo. Of course, Edgar is only a henchman for the main villain; but I can’t talk about who that is without some key spoilers…
Damon Wayans Jr. also has an excellent turn as Darlie Bunkie, and the chemistry he displays with Dornan is excellent; his extensive comedy background allows him to bring the best of the less experienced Dornan. There are plenty of other appearances from some of the great comedians doing the rounds in US cinema and TV today; with a particularly strong turn from Vanessa Bayer as the controlling leader of the lady’s “Talk Club”, alongside other welcome turns from the likes of Wendi McLendon-Covey, Fortune Feimster and Michael Hitchcock. Comedy lounge singer Richard Cheese also makes a cameo as… a comedy lounge singer, but is excellently deployed to provide some background giggles at key points.
There’s not a lot more which can be said without delving into the realms of spoilers, and with so many gags layered in at so many levels, that is definitely something I want to avoid here; but what I will note is that this is very proudly a film about two middle-aged women celebrating friendship, love and fun; and it’s refreshing to see a film where the male lead is a decade younger than the female leads, which is certainly a rarity for Hollywood. Dornan is 10 years younger than both Wiig and Mumolo, and I refuse to believe that’s purely a coincidence. Mumolo’s writing career hits have all centred on strong female central characters, and casting for those films has always had a sensible and realistic approach to age-based casting; so to step out and cast a handsome actor who is a decade younger than the central female cast is an entertainingly tongue-in-cheek gesture towards Hollywood casting directors, and one that is worth noting down.
Barb And Star Go To Vista Del Mar is an incredibly fun, incredibly silly and also very warm film. Packed with colourful visuals and more jokes than you could shake a stick at; the centre of it is a touching story about friendship, love and forgiveness that is perfect for this current moment in history. This is a film that I would encourage everyone to check out – especially as it’s a real shame that it’s going to miss out on a proper theatrical release. If it had that; I truly believe it would have already joined the likes of Anchorman, Bridesmaids and The Hangover in the conversation around the best comedy films of the 21st century.