Barb and Star do indeed go to Vista Del Mar in “Barb & Star Go to Vista Del Mar,” but viewers are advised to put their maps away and let the movie follow its own deranged path. A goofy and absurdist comedy in which anything can happen, and it usually will, Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo’s long-awaited follow-up to the 2011 hit “Bridesmaids” absolutely plays by its own rules.
Whether or not that’s a successful strategy will very much depend on the viewer’s state of mind and opinions about comedy, but in an era where so many films seem to emerge from the same bland assembly line, there’s something exciting about a movie that plays to sharply divided reactions, even if that movie doesn’t hit 100% of the time. Not all the jokes landed for me, admittedly, but they all come from such a bizarre place that I was always interested to see what was coming from around the next corner.
Co-writers Mumolo and Wiig play, respectively, Barb and Star, two single, middle-aged best pals who live together and are constantly delighted with each other’s company. (When the two spend hours describing the miraculous attributes of any woman named “Trish,” it’s easy to imagine Wiig and Mumolo riffing these characters whenever they were waiting for a table or killing time on the subway.)
After the furniture store they work in shuts down, the women decide it’s time to shake things up, so they take a friend’s suggestion and travel to Vista Del Mar, a Florida island that’s a vacation paradise for travelers over the age of 45.
What they don’t realize is that a mad scientist (also Wiig) plans to get her revenge on the town by unleashing a swarm of killer mosquitos during the annual Seafood Jam, and she has sent henchman Edgar (Jamie Dornan) to plant the transmitter that will attract the lethal bugs. Edgar is clearly in love with the scientist — her name is never spoken aloud, but in the credits she is listed as “Sharon Gordon Fisherman” — and wants to be her “official” boyfriend, and she does not exactly hide her disdain for him.
Their first night in town, Barb and Star have a drug-fueled three-way with Edgar, and the two BFFs feel rivalry for the first time. And when Edgar begins to waver in his devotion to the plan, his boss sends in Darlie Bunkle (Damon Wayans Jr.), who is exceptionally terrible at being an international man of mystery.
But to get too deeply into the plot is to miss the point of “Barb & Star Go to Vista Del Mar”; if the musical numbers didn’t indicate how little interest this film has in existing in the real world, then the talking crab might. It might seem at first that the writers are punching down at these characters, but once it’s made clear that Barb and Star are no more meant to be grounded citizens of Earth than anyone or anything else in this movie, the genuine affection that Mumolo and Wiig have for their creations emerges. They might have fun with the frumpy hair-dos, and their heroines’ love for culottes and tchotchkes, but they want Barb and Star to win. And by the end of the film, viewers who are on this movie’s page will share that affection.
Josh Greenbaum (“Too Funny to Fail”), a documentarian and TV director making his narrative feature debut, builds a world that accommodates the many zigs and zags of Wiig and Mumolo’s script. Ably assisted by director of photography Toby Oliver (“Get Out”) and production designer Steve Saklad (“22 Jump Street”), he makes Vista Del Mar a brochure-ready fantasia of pinks and teals against which the very odd action plays out.
This had to have been a fun gig for costume designer Trayce Gigi Field, dressing the cast in everything from normcore mom-wear to outrageous resort attire to the mad scientist’s monochromatic ensembles, and for the music department, mixing together some snappy original compositions (Dornan’s heartsick ballad is a definite highlight) with some of the groaniest beach hits ever recorded.
There’s a sterling ensemble of comedic players here (besides Wayans, we get Wendi McClendon-Covey, Vanessa Bayer, Rose Abdoo, Fortune Feimster, Tom Lenk, Ian Gomez, and Michael Hitchcock, to name a few), and while it’s definitely Mumolo and Wiig’s show all the way, Dornan winds up being surprisingly capable at holding his own against these two dynamos. He gets what movie he’s in, and he commits to the ludicrousness; had he been standing outside of it, or trying too hard to show he was in on the joke, the performance wouldn’t work at all.
All comedy is subjective, of course, and “Barb & Star Go to Vista Del Mar” is aggressive in being true to itself and its own vision. Those not on board will roll their eyes and wonder what the fuss is about, while fans will watch it repeatedly, quote it forever, and dress as the characters for Halloween.
“Barb & Star Go to Vista Del Mar” will debut on VOD on Friday.
For the record: An earlier version of this review referred to the villain by a name used in the closed-captions of the film sent out for review, later amended before the public release.