Silliness is underrated. We often dismiss films, especially films by or about women, as “just silly,” as though all movies need to be self-serious about their projects, to show important people doing important things, or at least contain supposedly edgy humor about sex and violence. Kindness in particular gets labelled silly—what’s the point of the comedy if the friends like each other, if the romantic partners don’t torture each other, if no one gets drunk and winds up in the wrong bed? The ridiculous Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar is easy to dismiss as silly—because it is. But its silliness shouldn’t be dismissed.
After losing their jobs at a furniture store, best friends Barb and Star (Annie Mumolo and Kristen Wiig) embark on a getaway vacation to Vista Del Mar, a Florida resort recommended by their friend Mickey (an underused but always hilarious Wendi McLendon-Covey). They’re afraid to lose their “shimmer” and the fun they have when they’re together by spending time outside their comfort zones, but finally agree that maybe it’s time they moved on from the loss of their husbands and do something truly daring, like wearing their fancy culottes. Meanwhile, dangerous villain Sharon Gordon Fisherman (also Wiig) is plotting against Vista Del Mar, planning to release hordes of killer mosquitoes on the unsuspecting inhabitants. She sends her henchman Edgar (Jamie Dornan) to plant the homing device that will attract the mosquitoes, but Edgar meets (and falls for) Star, who in turn begins lying to her best friend about their relationship. Our heroines must uncover the diabolical plot, save the day, get the guy, and not get distracted by seashell souvenirs.
A large part of the fun in Barb and Star is the obvious joy of the entire cast. Every actor seems to be indulging their taste for silliness, from Wiig and Mumolo, to Dornan and Andy Garcia and Damon Wayans, Jr. But it is our two leads that keep things moving. What makes Barb and Star so delightful as characters is that they are wholly in love with their own lives—they adore each other, and want nothing more than to work (together) in a furniture store and make hotdog soup. There are backstories about husbands (one bad, one good), but it’s obvious that the most important relationship in Barb and Star’s lives is each other, and probably always has been. When things are upended for them, they mourn briefly, but decide to use this as an opportunity to do something fun.
Delightfully, this isn’t a film about two sad middle-aged women getting their groove back, but two happy middle-aged women having a good time stretching beyond their comfort zones. They get drunk, get high, pick up a sexy young man, and have adventures, but they never sacrifice (or consider sacrificing) either their friendship or their sense of selves. Even Star’s apparent self-flagellation about her looks is played for laughs—because it’s so exaggerated, it’s not serious nor does it come off as mocking the character’s appearance. She’s actually quite happy wearing culottes and big hair and losing her cool over seashell art—she doesn’t need to change, and what’s more, the man who falls for her doesn’t want her to.
Without taking an iota away from Wiig and Mumolo, Jamie Dornan proves that he has an excellent sense of humor as Edgar, a romantic who only wants to be in a serious, public relationship. Yes, “Edgar’s Prayer” is a fantastically funny song, but it’s the way in which Dornan throws himself whole-heartedly into the entire film that makes him so likable, and such a good foil for Barb and Star. He doesn’t upstage them, and they don’t walk all over him.
The Blu-ray hosts a frankly hilarious commentary track with Wiig and Mumolo. Even better is the outtake reel and the deleted scenes, which flesh out some characters and give us that much more Barb and Star goodness. One gets the sense that director Josh Greenbaum didn’t have to do much—just shout action and let his stars do their thing. But the addition of the deleted scenes and bloopers just highlights how charming this film is, how much fun everyone is having, and how comedies don’t need to be mean to be truly funny.
The only quibble about Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar is that it needed to be longer, with attention paid to secondary characters. A bit too much time is spent on the villainous backstory, when what we really want—what really drives the film—are Barb and Star getting into scrapes together. The friends’ dynamic keeps the story from sliding off into mockery, their infectious joy in each other and in practically everything they see treated as charming, not pathetic. In fact, Barb and Star is a gentle film in a lot of ways (even the villains are sympathetic), a celebration of female friendship that ultimately saves the day. Yes, it’s ridiculous and nonsensical, edging into surrealism as characters break into song, fight crocodiles, rise as mermaids from the sea, or parachute down cliffs on their culottes. It’s silly and gentle and kind-hearted, funny without being mean, with killer one-liners and earnestly ridiculous characters.
We need more films like this, preferably also with Barb and Star.
Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar is now available on Blu-ray and DVD from Lionsgate