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Barb & Star is destined to become an overlooked comedy masterpiece

Kristin Wiig and Annie Mumolo’s new movie is right up there with MacGruber and Popstar

Matt Patches is an executive editor at Polygon. He has over 15 years of experience reporting on movies and TV, and reviewing pop culture.

The new comedy Barb & Star Go to Vista Del Mar cashes in all the mainstream cred accrued by writer-actors Kristin Wiig and Annie Mumolo after the phenomenon of Bridesmaids, then puts it toward the greatest use of all: silly, bizarre, ecstatic jokes.

The bits are executed with extreme confidence; when the pair strut out in khaki culottes and larger-than-life perms, it’s like they’ve spent the last 10 years performing on SNL as the two twinkling, middle-age Midwesterners. But like Austin Powers or Andy Samberg’s Popstar alter ego Connor4Real, Wiig and Mumolo invented Barb and Star solely for one ludicrous adventure in the sun. Also like Austin Powers and Popstar, that kind of daring stab often only finds recognition in the years after flopping. We won’t know if the movie would have suffered the same box-office troubles in its original planned theatrical release (COVID lockdowns are sending it straight to VOD services), but, c’mon, we know. The fate makes Barb & Star Go to Vista Del Mar a cult-movie-on-arrival just waiting to be discovered.

After losing their jobs at Jennifer’s Convertibles, best friends Barb (Mumolo) and Star (Wiig) find themselves in an existential crisis. Not only did they rely on the furniture outlet’s in-store dining set to host Thanksgiving dinner, but selling sofas was their purpose. Lying about their layoffs to their friends and getting booted from Talking Club (“First rule of Talking Club: always tell the truth”) only speeds up their depressive spiraling. When a friend returns from a rejuvenating vacation in Florida, the women hightail it out of Soft Rock, Nebraska to Vista Del Mar for sun, sand, and possible intercourse with a man. “It smells like Red Lobster!” Barb proclaims of paradise.

Annie Mumolo as Barb looking at a sign that says “Do Not Disturb! Sleeping! Diarrhea + Barf = Medical Level Farts!”
Kristin Wiig as Star reading a Culottes magazine in bed in Barn & Star Photos: Cate Cameron/Lionsgate

What Wiig and Mumolo deliver for 90 minutes can only be described as comedic off-roading. Whether it’s improvisation or the result of years inside each other’s heads, the material beams off the screen. The two actors babble on in character about everything from racoon sleeping patterns to labia piercings and the high art of lounge singer Richard Cheese. And yet it’s all precise, too; Mumolo knows just the right way to mispronounce “Don Chee-adle?” and Wiig has the perfect wide-eyed look to fire back in agreement. When they hit the dance floor to rock out to a club remix of Celine Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On,” those oddball sensibilities flood the screen. They’ve created a movie that’s totally them, and everything from the pastel production design to the punctuating camerawork is on their oddball wavelength.

Unexpectedly, Barb & Star Go to Vista Del Mar accommodates Wiig with a second role: Sharon Gordon Fisherman, a villainous albino mastermind with a thirst for vengeance against Vista Del Mar. Assisted by her kidnapped child Yo-Yo (Reyn Doi) and her number two, Edgar (Jamie Dornan), who hopes to one day achieve “official couple” status with his boss, Sharon plots to destroy the seaside community by unleashing a wave of killer mosquitos. Wiig plays the evildoer as equal parts Cate Blanchett and Johnny Depp’s Willy Wonka, cackling up a storm as she watches Edgar enact her plan — or try. The henchman eventually catches the eye of Barb and Star, and while the two compete for his affection, he’s equally intoxicated by the prospect of real love. It’s the perfect role for Dornan, whose typical stoic persona melts away to reveal a smitten romantic who will belt a tune to profess his love. Yes, of course this movie has a big beach-musical number.

Jamie Dornan as Edgar reading a book called How to Know the Person You Love Loves You Even Though They Don’t Act Like It Most of the Time in Barb & Star Go to Vista Del Mar Photo: Cate Cameron/Lionsgate

The absurdist logic of Barb & Star gives way to what I can only assume are Wiig and Mumolo’s wildest dreams — and there’s a thrill to seeing them come to life without restraint. After the success of Bridesmaids, it was never quite clear which boxes the collaborators would fill. Wiig became an unlikely indie darling in films like Welcome to Me, The Skeleton Twins, and The Diary of a Teenage Girl, while Hollywood hoped to plug her into IP vehicles like Ghostbusters. Mumolo parlayed her Bridesmaids screenplay Oscar nom into both writing gigs (she penned the early drafts of the Jennifer Lawrence drama Joy before David O. Russell took over and mangled it into the finished product) and a string of TV work, but nothing on the scale of her blockbuster comedy. Barb & Star sees the wall of convention crumble, allowing two Groundlings veterans to enter their natural habitat. “Your dong went all the way up and touched my heart” feels like a line someone’s been dying to deliver since day one.

The freedom leads to excess. The good kind. From spy-movie setpieces to asides about Pringles Can Man intercourse, Barb & Star Go to Vista Del Mar puts it all out there, as if Wiig and Mumolo know this is their one and only shot to be themselves. Luckily, for fans of shamelessly stupid humor, there are no rough patches. For viewers who are not, the whole thing might be … a tough ride. Maybe Barb puts it best in describing her wild, bumpy banana-boat ride: “It’s a real tit flapper!”

Barb & Star Go to Vista Del Mar opens on PVOD platforms on Feb. 12.

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