Two close friends seek romance and adventure on the Florida coast.
Directed by Joshua Greenbaum
Starring Kristen Wiig, Annie Mumolo, and Jamie Dornan
Review by Jon Kissel
Barb and Star’s particular brand of anarchic, non sequiter comedy is exactly the kind that I can’t get enough of. This is Conan random nonsense plus Lonely Island musical interludes with the non-nightmare parts of Tim and Eric. I can’t believe Wiig and Mumolo had this in them. Their previous collaboration in Bridesmaids is an Apatow-esque character study with diarrhea jokes, a film that has exactly zero talking crabs. Mumolo’s other feature writing credits include Megan Leavey and Joy, films that oscillate between unimaginative and dreadful, while Wiig has taken a turn for the dramatic, working with directors like Darren Aronofsky and Ridley Scott. Greenbaum comes from documentaries and TV sitcom directing. The writing process for Barb and Star must have been an anything-goes attempt to see what Wiig and Mumolo can get away with.
It turns out they can get away with everything. The viewer doesn’t need to know Fisherman’s recipe for a soda fountain suicide, but time is carved out for it. The Trish back-and-forth is likely an improv between Wiig and Mumolo, and I could’ve listened to another five minutes of it. The aforementioned talking crab adds nothing but the building gag of it speaking in a Morgan Freeman voice before introducing itself as Morgan Freemond. That’s a deleted scene if ever there was one, but it makes it into the film here. Directorial choices are just as out there, ranging from the seagull wipe after Edgar’s big power ballad to the several sudden cuts back to the tense Talking Club during action sequences. The TV version of this would air from 12:48 to 1:00 in the morning on Adult Swim.
Every one of those idiosyncratic choices got a laugh out of me. Barb and Star has perfect jokes in it, jokes whose format is recognizable from other comedies but that feel like the best version. The book gag, where Edgar is reading something suited specifically for his scenario, is frequently used in American Dad but they never had the opposite scenario described on the back cover and then flipped it later. Old School and The Hangover had the weird background band, but the collected works of lounge pianist Richard Cheese in Barb and Star put those guys to shame. Even something as simple as Barb and Star ordering lunch at the hotel pool is expertly crafted, a joke that’s not only funny but satirical in how fantasy is more real for these two than reality and also an apt description of this tacky location and the country that it sits in. That’s as deep as Barb and Star gets but who needs profundity when I’ve got sock talk.
This was a joyful experience. Everyone is so committed to their ridiculous tasks in Barb and Star, from a revelatory Dornan to Damon Wayans Jr as Darlie Bunkle, a spy who can’t stop revealing details about himself. I would never be able to convince a person that didn’t care for this that it was in fact comedic genius. Nothing’s more subjective in cinema than comedy, and there’s nothing more reductive in film criticism than whether something that only exists to make the viewer laugh succeeds or fails. By making the strangest and wackiest choice again and again, Barb and Star Go To Vista Del Mar wildly succeeds, if only for me. A-