Ten years have passed since Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo’s raucous, raunchy, and totally charming “Bridesmaids” upended staid ideas of what could be funny in mainstream comedy. (Funny women? What a concept!) Now, the pair have finally reunited for “Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar.” The “Bridesmaids” DNA is all over this one, which retains the strong affection and respect for female friendship that underpinned the 2011 comedy hit (a trait woefully missing from so many films in the genre), but couches that same dynamic in silly, strange, and just plain bizarre new twists. It seems odd to deem any film an instant cult classic, but “Barb and Star” is such a giddy outlier, a dense, flawed assemblage of zany humor that people will happily tear into for years to come. Bumps and all, “Barb and Star” is a wholly unexpected combination of “MacGruber,” “Pop Star,” and “Despicable Me” (yes, really) that operates entirely on its own wavelength.
Fortunately, most of that wavelength has hysterical results, resulting in an eager-to-please package that tosses off lines designed to inflict maximum comic damage (a gag about “fried bald eagle babies” is impossible to contextualize, but it’s the sort of thing that left this critic gasping for air) before zipping right along to another wacky new set piece. But a series of jokes isn’t the same thing as a cohesive movie: Wiig and Mumolo, who both wrote the film and star in it as the eponymous Barb and Star, seem understandably thrilled to bring this nuttiness to life, but they stretch even their best gags to untenable ends. At a bloated 107 minutes, “Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar” comes mighty close to overstaying its welcome, with convoluted story beats often tripping up even the most inspired of punchlines.
Wiig and Mumolo reportedly cooked up what would become Barb and Star — good-natured BFFs from “Soft Rock, Nebraska” who have never left their small town — while making “Bridesmaids,” first imagining the inseparable duo as a single character (allegedly Maya Rudolph’s character’s mom) who delighted in her seemingly common life. But while that sounds like the sort of thing ripe for cheap jokes and mean jabs, Wiig and Mumolo have an obvious affection for their BFF avatars, and Barb and Star’s fidelity to their bond is the film’s one immutable element. Not that it won’t be tested.
After a series of setbacks shake Barb (Mumolo) and Star (Wiig) to their core, capped off by their excommunication from their beloved “talking club” — led by Vanessa Bayer in a small but hilarious turn — the duo decide to change their lives, at least temporarily. The culotte-sporting besties have never left Soft Rock, but now’s the time, and they soon alight for the much-ballyhooed Florida enclave known as Vista Del Mar for their vacation. Everything is wonderful, from their luxe hotel (which welcomes them with a dazzling musical entrance) to the hunky men at every turn (wearing tip to toe Tommy Bahama, the height of middle-aged sex appeal), all of it set to a theme song that mostly consists of the world “Florida” stretched out in heavenly tones.
First-time feature director Josh Greenbaum might not leave much of a stamp on the film, but he seems happy to let Wiig and Mumolo do whatever the hell it is they want, and who can possibly blame him for that? “Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar” often feels like 10 years of inside jokes distilled to one movie, but even the more indulgent stuff — keep an eye out for Barb and Star’s inane airplane conversation about a made-up third BFF — eventually becomes relevant to the plot. If “Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar” feels like a boozy trip down memory lane with your own best pal, that may be the point. How much mileage audiences will get out of it remains to be seen, but it’s hard to deny that “Barb and Star” plays like an infectious inside joke.
What then, to make of the wacky criminal enterprise at the film’s center? Wiig and Mumolo, while secure in the appeal of their own humor, don’t rest on it, injecting “Barb and Star” with some winking action elements, if only to push forward the story. Wiig also does double-duty by appearing as big baddie Sharon Gordon Fisherman, a pigment-challenged super-villain who could have been pulled from innumerable kiddie cartoons and shows an obsession with the idea of wiping Vista Del Mar off the map, care of some super-powered mosquitos. Yes, she’s a plot device, plunked into this candy-colored film to add drama and deliver a message about the power of friendship, but Wiig and Mumolo know their “Despicable Me”-esque character beats and delight in heaping them on Sharon.
And, without Sharon, there is no Edgar, reason enough to love Wiig and Mumolo’s insistence that their outlandish friendship comedy has to have a crime angle. That Wiig and Mumolo — plus supporting stars like Bayer, Damon Wayans Jr., and Michael Hitchcock — would be amusing in a comedy this free-flowing is a given, but it’s Jamie Dornan who turns in the film’s most surprising performance. As Sharon’s doe-eyed henchman, Edgar’s villainy is tied up in his love for his creepy boss — there is nothing he wants more than for the pair to be an “official couple,” and the reverence with which he (repeatedly) pronounces that phrase is arguably the film’s best gag — and the actor gives his all to a role that will likely change Hollywood’s perception of him forever (and for the better).
It’s also a performance that highlights the best and worst of what the film has to offer. For every full-bodied musical sequence that sees Edgar belting out his feelings to a number of seagulls (fine, there’s just the one, but it’s a great one), there’s a long stretch of film that seems to have forgotten that song-and-dance numbers can (and should) appear with some regularity. And for every hilarious go-for-broke drunken-night-out montage that sees Edgar tearing it up with the ladies, there are bloated sequences that pull away from our central trio to tell a story with little thrill to it. In a film this wacky, who needs backstory? At least Edgar has nothing but love for the gals, who deserve this whirlwind vacation and so much more.
Lionsgate will release “Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar” on VOD on Friday, February 12.