Film Review: Kristen Wiig & Annie Mumolo Lead Off-Beat Kitsch Comedy ‘Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar’ ★★★

Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo write and star in Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar, a camp pastiche of the sixties spy thriller that centres on two Midwestern best-friends getting caught up in a villain’s plans for mass destruction. The humour is off-beat, likely familiar to anyone who has seen any of Will Ferrell and Adam McKay’s other Gary Sanchez Productions (Gary is playfully renamed to Gloria here), and somewhat patchy fun.

After losing their jobs at a local department store, best friends Barb (Mumolo) and Star (Wiig) decide to take a vacation to Florida holiday resort Vista Del Mar. However, both ladies are entangled in: a plot from a mysterious villain and her vendetta against Vista Del Mar, a handsome and emotionally-confused henchman (Jamie Dornan), and the challenges of their own friendship.

Opening with the definition of culottes, the outfit of choice for our two title characters (essentially wide-legged trousers), director Josh Greenbaum (of George Lazenby documentary Becoming Bond) immediately captures the campy tone that will course throughout the film. Enjoyment of this tone will be very detrimental to whether viewers ‘get‘ Barb and Star and are willing to embrace the off-beat, silliness of the feature. Those that embrace this will have a perfectly pleasant 110 minutes, those who do not will feel every minute of this runtime drag. There are echoes of cult classic SNL spin-off film MacGruber about this one.

In the opening scene, we are introduced to a young paperboy belting Barbra Streisand’s Guilty at the top of his lungs, before tucking himself away in a tree which leads to an underground lair where he reports to Kristen Wiig’s skin-bleached villain. Feeling somewhat classic Pink Panther, Get Smart and Our Man Flint, Barb and Star’s spy-pastiche subplot as we meet Wiig’s evil genius with a vendetta against the small town of Vista Del Mar and her desire to wipe out its inhabitants with flesh hungry mosquitos whilst batting of the affections of her lovestruck henchman Edgar. This spy sub-plot coincides with Barb and Star’s visit to Vista Del Mar and expectedly, chaos ensues.

Much of the joy of Barb and Star comes from the chemistry of Wiig and Mumolo as the two straight-laced Midwesterners completely content in their life and friendship, with both actresses/writers embodying the roles with ease. Highlights include the two ladies discussing the merits of the name Trish and exactly what sort of person Trish would be, and an insight into The Talking Club which the ladies attend and talk about specific subjects (featuring an amusing turn from Phyllis Smith). Wiig and Mumolo pack the roles with a quick-witted energy and amusingly quaint simplicity, ensuring that we are invested in Barb and Star’s journey as friends.

After quite a lengthy build-up Barb and Star hits its stride when the ladies arrive at the Florida resort, kicked off with a high camp musical number. The film then delves into a love triangle between Barb and Star and Edgar – who is gaining a sense of self-worth after distancing himself from his cold, villainous boss. Dornan has a comic-energy that matches his co-stars – best encapsulated in a rave sequence soundtracked to a Hi-NRG remix of the My Heart Will Go On and later Dornan’s own musical number which channels emotional eighties heartbreak pop. Cameos from Reba and Andy Garcia keep things amusing, whilst a smaller supporting role from Damon Wayans Jr. brings his comic talents into the fold.

Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar benefits from bright and breezy cinematography from Toby Oliver and Trayce Gigi Field’s elaborate costume designs, essential in crafting the ambience of kitsch which shimmers like a cheap rhinestone.

As mentioned, the humour in Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar is off-beat that viewers will know in the film’s early moments if it is for them. This reviewer found it pleasantly enjoyable prompting a few mild-titters but nothing hugely side-splitting. A slightly length runtime stretches the thin plot to the maximum, but Wiig, Mumolo and Dornan wholeheartedly commit to the kitsch theatrics of the project, making it worthwhile.