Annie Mumolo and Kristen Wiig star as the titular Barb and Star, lifelong friends who embark on the adventure of a lifetime when they decide to leave their small Midwestern town for the first time ever.
Joined by a pitch-perfect Jamie Dornan as holidaymaker Edgar and a host of other A-list cameos, Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar is as much fun to watch as it is to say. Just say it... we'll wait.
The comedy is not for the faint of heart – and not for any raunch or "toilet humour" per se, but rather because of the fast-paced, midwestern drawl with which Wiig and Mumolo whip through their lines, not bothering to break to let us catch our breath. It's reminiscent of the razor-sharp dialogue of The Marvelous Mrs Maisel creator Amy Sherman-Palladino, but with a hilariously surreal twist.
Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar does something refreshing by putting two women in their 40s at the centre of a story usually reserved for young men: part buddy comedy, part rom-com, part coming-of-age story. A pastiche of genre held together by glitter glue, you have to go in full tilt to enjoy the more ridiculous gags (like a talking crab and life-saving trousers).
Luckily, Mumolo and Wiig sell them with earnestness, in part because Barb and Star don't have to be more than what they are: bizarre, blurred, funny, caricatures of very real middle-aged women facing their own mid-life coming-of-age stories.
You don't have to squint too hard to see the 'moral' at the heart of the story, about moving forward in your life, trusting and believing in yourself enough to take risks. But all of those messages are wrapped in cotton candy and absurdist humour, making them a sweet pill to swallow in an even sweeter spoonful of sugar.
Playing against type, Edgar is desperate to be in an "official couple" with his love, Sharon Gordon Fisherman (also Wiig, in cakey white makeup and a black wig – we won't spoil why, the reveal is too juicy!). It's refreshing to see a man in the 'desperate to be acknowledged by a toxic partner' role, and it helps that Dornan plays it so sappy and earnest that you, too, fall in love with his desperation.
There's never a wink (or worse, an eye-roll) from him at the camera, either, nor from anyone else. Every single person in this film is wholeheartedly invested in their world and all the bizarre shenanigans that they get up to.
And then there are the cameos. Phyllis Smith from The Office, SNL's Vanessa Bayer, and Gilmore Girls' Rose Abdoo form the ladies' "talking club" where Bayer rules with an iron fist and refuses to let Smith's Dolores talk about horses. Subjects of conversation instead range from "jobs" to "facial expressions" and they serve disgusting-looking hot-dog soup and every minute is sheer perfection.
To call it a trip is an understatement. Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar is a tumble down a piña-colada-fuelled rabbit hole. Once through the looking glass, it's an uncanny but thoroughly enjoyable time.
What keeps Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar from sliding into second-hand-embarrassment cringe comedy is that the movie respects its characters. Barb and Star are never the butts of the joke, no one pokes fun at their souvenir shop sea-shell friendship bracelets or their flat, midwestern accents.
For all their absurdity, Barb and Star are in command of their own story, and so we go with them because we want to see them win, not fall on their faces. The tight story and quick pacing stop it from becoming tiresome, and the result is that Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar is a funny, heartfelt, giddy movie that unabashedly does its own thing.
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