One unexpected facet of the COVID-year awards season is that because so many films vacated 2020 eligibility, we’re left with a crop of almost uniformly sad ass dramas, with no big studio crowd-pleasers to alleviate the field. It’s not that the films are bad—many of them are good!—but watching nothing but sad ass dramas with no comedies or action movies or dumb blockbusters to break it up gets bleak (and it is definitely going to affect the Oscars this year). I have felt it myself, setting up ambitious editorial schedules for myself that I then cannot meet because I get too bummed out by watching a bunch of sad ass dramas in a row and need a break. So, it is with this acknowledgment of my own sad ass drama burnout in mind, that I announce: Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar is GODDAMN DELIGHTFUL, the most singularly absurd comedy since Step Brothers and an instant classic.
Barb and Star reunites Bridesmaids writers and long-time comedy partners Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo, who star as middle-aged best friends Barb (Mumolo) and Star (Wiig). The opening Midwestern-lampooning sequence calls back to Drop Dead Gorgeous, though Barb and Star is an infinitely kinder film, and Barb and Star’s “Midwest nice” is genuine—they are truly kind people, though they have become stuck in a rut. After losing their coveted jobs at Jennifer’s Convertibles and getting kicked out of “Talking Club”, Barb and Star decide it is time to shake things up, and head to Vista Del Mar, Florida, where they get entangled in a terrorist plot involving genetically modified mosquitos, a Seafood Jam, and Jamie Dornan. It’s a lot! It’s VERY dumb! But if you like Top Secret—and you should, because it is one of the greatest parodies of all time—you will dig the wacky hijinks and spot-on parodying of Florida resort culture. Also, there are song and dance numbers! Jamie Dornan does one of them! And they submitted the song “I Love Boobies” to the Oscars for consideration because not all heroes wear capes!
At heart, Barb and Star is a story of friendship, and the need for friends to stand on their own and nurture their own interests. Barb and Star are inseparable, the kind of friends who can talk constantly about anything, including going into detailed descriptions of hypothetical people just based on their names (in this case, imagining the life of a woman named “Trish”). But following the losses of their romantic partners, they have, perhaps, crossed the line into co-dependence. Their trip to Vista Del Mar becomes a chance to not only partake in a “soul douche”, but to rediscover themselves as individuals and thus refresh their friendship. The greatest comedies are those that commit to the bit AND have an underlying story grounded in real human experience, and Barb and Star is one such comedy. The talking crab named “Morgan Freemond”, the resort rando always in a Speedo, Wiig doing double duty as the villainous Sharon Gordon Fisherman, everything her henchman Yoyo says, all of it is perfectly calculated comedy, but underneath is a genuine, sweet story about the power of friendship. (It IS kind of like Bridesmaids, but off-the-chain ridiculous.)
The film is perfectly cast from top to bottom, with comedy all-stars like Phyllis Smith, Wendi McLendon-Covey, Vanessa Bayer, and Damon Wayans, Jr. popping up in small roles and crushing every line, and Reyn Doi is an absolute delight as Yoyo, Sharon Gordon Fisherman’s pint-sized henchman. But it is Jamie Dornan who emerges as the MVP. Giving the single most committed performance of his career, Dornan steals the show as Sharon Gordon Fisherman’s frustrated co-conspirator, Edgar. He sings, he dances, he falls in love—if Dornan had shown this much commitment in Fifty Shades, those movies still would have been bad, but we might have had a better opinion of his acting. He plays a perfect himbo, and I cannot stress enough how much I NEEDED Jamie Dornan dancing unabashed on a beach while singing a power ballad about falling in love. It’s a transformative performance that ought to have everyone reconsidering him as an actor, his range and what he can do on screen.
Would I have enjoyed this film as much if I wasn’t burnt out on sad ass dramas? Probably! But I DEFINITELY enjoyed it MORE because I AM burnt out on sad ass dramas, and if you’re feeling any kind of burnout right now, it’s just the balm for you, too. Barb and Star is destined to have the kind of fanatic following of films like Drop Dead Gorgeous, Zoolander, and Step Brothers, and it’s bound to be a much-quoted classic in the years to come. It arrives at the perfect moment to provide relief from all the sad ass dramas, but more than that, it’s one of those comedies that gives you exactly what you didn’t know you needed. A kitsch-skewering, pastel-colored, friendship-celebrating absurdist parody with a surprise comedy turn from Jamie Dornan IS the film we need right now.
Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar is now available on demand on all digital platforms.