Barb and Star Go to Vista del Mar
Full disclaimer right up front. I’m that fabled person who has not seen the movie Bridesmaids. I’ve seen movies with Kristen Wiig so was aware she’s a fine actress with good comic timing, but I had no idea she would be able to make me laugh quite that hard. Annie Munolo was a mystery to me but as I watched the credits scrolling by at the top of the movie I saw she wrote this, produced it and acted, same as Wiig so I was prepared to watch a dumb vanity project by some Hollywood A- listers.
The opening card reads:
Women’s trousers, usually calf length, cut full to resemble a skirt.
Typically worn by women in their middle age years.
This disclaimer was added late in the editing process because Wiig and Munolo realized there was a significant part of the audience who may not have any idea what culottes are. Being older, I did know and took it only as an immediate big hint that this film was going to be something different. Then the film starts with a close shot of a boy’s pudgy knees peddling a bike, pulling papers out of his basket and tossing them to the houses in a neat and orderly middle class neighborhood, as seen from a drone tracking shot. For the rest of the movie I was impressed with the choices made of camera angle and distance of the shots. They created an added dynamic to an already vibrant movie without the typical braggaducio. A moment later, the camera pulls back enough to show the paperboy is Asian American, wearing a ball cap and somewhat clumsily tossing beautifully rolled papers right and left, and then he begins singing along with the Barbara Streisand song Guilty in what looks like the best lip sync I’ve ever seen outside drag night at the bar until the soundtrack switches just for a moment to let us hear his terribly off key but enthusiastic rendering. Fortunately, we then hear only Barbara again as he rides out of town and into the suddenly much more bizarre rest of the film.
By the time we finally meet Barb and Star, chatting over tea on their favorite sofa, we know we’re in for a ride. But as they natter back and forth in Fargo-esque chipmunk voices that instantly made me want to see how that looked in the script, you’ll notice the ride getting steeper by the moment. I did write in my notes at this point, “I find myself wondering…can they keep this up?”. The answer is yes. The movie morphs and zooms in and out of bizarre scenarios that continue to surprise all while using quite a few tried and true comedy tropes. Part of the reason this works so well is the acting, with Kristen Wiig (Bridesmaids, The Martian), and Annie Munolo (Bridesmaids) being two old friends playing two old friends in a relationship that really defies good description at times. Jamie Dornan, who we last saw playing the creepiest serial killer ever in The Fall here plays a clueless, sweet, funny bad guy, to the point I couldn’t put my finger on where I’d seen him before, especially during his song and dance number. The biggest casting mystery was who played Sharon Gordon Fisherman, who belongs in the ridiculous bad guy pantheon that includes Dr. Evil, Beetlejuice, and Hedley Lamarr. I did NOT realize who was playing her, though I wracked my brain for it, and was floored when I read who it was in the very cute end credits. I dare you to figure it out without cheating.
As I mentioned, there is a song and dance number. I should have been forewarned by the singing paperboy, but when the next number showed up I laughed and laughed. It’s an old shtick that is new again. There are several fabulous musical choices, like a hint of The Fellowship of the Ring journey theme as the characters…go on a trip. My favorite, though, is Richard Cheese the lounge singer. I loved, loved, loved his songs “I Love Boobies”, “My Friends from High School Recently Passed”, and “I Love Boobies (reprise)”. The next day I finally realized why Wiig and Munolo mentioned his name repeatedly in the commentary. Yes, I’m slow sometimes, made even worse watching a film that has a man hiding behind the disguise of “clam inspector” in a sex soaked resort town. I didn’t get that one right away, either.
A farce is actually a delicate thing to construct. Barb and Star is a wonderful example of how to do it right. Everything aspect shines, from the subtly hilarious art direction, costuming (especially keep an eye on everyone’s jewelry), wigs that are constantly trying to steal the show, musical choices, casting choices, and continually strong writing. It does have a recurring joke that really got on my nerves after about the fifteenth rendition and the very end, despite having a truly hilarious fight scene, became the weakest part of the movie.
I really recommend seeing this movie because it drips in pastel mirth from beginning to end. And I dare you to guess the actress playing the bad guy without cheating.
- Barb and Star Go to Vista del Mar – IMDB
- Barb and Star Go to Vista del Mar – Official Website
- Barb and Star Go to Vista del Mar – Wikipedia
CFR: In Addition: OMG I have wanted to see this movie since the COVID pandemic began. So glad it is streaming on several platforms as I write this. Thanks Mildred!! I may be watching this tonight!