REVIEW: ‘Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar’ makes tacky the new black

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(Josh Greenbaum/ Lionsgate)

Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo in “Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar” (2021).

Stephen Lambros, Staff Writer

Hollywood comedies are a dime a dozen: very few of them go out of their way to dispense their humor in ways that challenge film form and introduce new ideas to the genre. For every “Palm Springs”, there’s a handful of schlockier funnies trading in smart approaches to comedy for surface-level elements such as star power and cheap gags; Robert De Niro’s “The War with Grandpa” and Tiffany Haddish’s “Like a Boss” are two recent examples of this. 

But “Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar,” which could be described as what films in the “Bill and Ted” franchise would be if middle-aged women were their target audience, strives to be different. With startling production value, two loveable protagonists, and a refreshing zaniness, this comedy feature, while not perfect, proves to be worth every sand dollar of the rental price.

“Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar” follows two women in their 40s, best friends Star (Kristen Wiig) and Barb (Annie Mulomo), as they decide to take a vacation to the Florida resort town Vista Del Mar after losing their jobs. They arrive hoping to have the time of their lives, but the presence of a mysterious man named Edgar (Jamie Dornan) and the hidden threat of a supervillain’s evil plan ensure that Barb and Star’s vacation will be anything but ordinary.

The first thing viewers will notice about the film is the attention paid to the costume and set design of the film. The vast majority of the film’s frames are bursting with color, from the Hawaiian shirts and seashell necklaces to the apartment rooms and crystal-blue ocean. Truly, the artwork on this film is outstanding, keeping eyes glued to the screen just by how the visuals project from it.

But of course, a comedy is nothing without its humor—and fortunately, that’s where “Barb and Star” is able to shine in an original way. The film adopts a tongue-in-cheek attitude, playfully throwing ideas onscreen as if it’s not afraid to draw outside the lines. The viewer is never able to predict what will happen next; when characters randomly burst into song as if it’s a musical, the unexpected nature of the moment is not only a joke in and of itself, but it also provides a bold declaration to the viewer, telling them that from then on, more things are possible in this story’s world than in others. 

Of course, the push/pull of the viewer’s attention between unexpected moments, sudden character introductions, and the main plot and subplots means that the overall narrative itself is less impactful on the viewer than a more focused story could’ve been—but for viewers strictly looking for a fun time, that could be a minor issue.

Overall, “Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar” is a strikingly original comedy that approaches the genre artfully and aims to make compelling proposals regarding what a Hollywood-made comedy should strive to be. Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo, the women who not only starred as Star and Barb but penned the screenplay as well, deserve to be credited with revisiting and revitalizing classic screwball tropes while simultaneously subverting them. It is a shame such a warm Summer film had to be delayed to a release in February—but perhaps the film’s movie magic can take the viewers to that season.