MOVIE REVIEW: BARB & STAR GO TO VISTA DEL MAR delivers absurdist laughs in spades in this silly road-trip comedy.


Writers Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo’s Barb & Star plays like the love-child of Pee Wee’s Big Adventure and Austin Powers with a healthy dose of Adult Swim-esque esoteric weirdness.

It’s fair to say that BARB & STAR GO TO VISA DEL MAR is probably the most unlikely film you would expect from screenwriting duo Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumulo, who penned the Academy-Award nominated screenplay for 2011’s Bridesmaids together. While Bridesmaids has its moments of zaniness like its Wilson Phillips concert ending and the post-Brazilian steakhouse wedding dress setpiece, there’s not too much in either Wiig or Mumolo’s oeuvre that would lead you to expect what the two have cooked up in their follow up feature here directed by New Girl director Josh Greenbaum. Rather than a grounded relationship-based comedy, BARB & STAR is an unlikely absurdist comedy road trip, channeling equal parts of Pee Wee’s Big Adventure, Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery, and the type of surreal humor and musical numbers you’d associate more with The Lonely Island or late-night absurdist vignettes like Too Many Cooks on Adult Swim.

Mumolo and Wiig play Barb and Star, respectively, a pair of middle-aged furniture saleswomen working at a Jennifer Convertibles outlet in Nebraska. The two are inseparable, from sharing lunches at their favorite couch on the sales floor to their membership in a talking club dominated by a sassy pharmacist played by Vanessa Bayer. But when the two of them unexpectedly lose their perfect job selling couches and are ousted from the talking club, the two fear that they’ve lost their “shimmer,” that joie de vivre that gives life meaning. It’s then that the two are reminded of a run-in with their friend Mickey (played in a memorable cameo by The Goldbergs star Wendy McClendon-Levey), who tells them of the “soul-douche” she just experienced at a Shangri-La for middle-aged folks, a town in Florida called Vista Del Mar. The two decide to head to this Nirvana for the 40s set to get their groove back and typically from this point laughs would ensue. Indeed, they do, but this also sets up a parallel plot involving murderous mosquitoes controlled by radio waves, an albino out for revenge, water spirits, and magic sea turtles.

It’s that left turn into the surreal that really makes the world of Barb and Star feel fully realized and its own unique well-spring that erupts from the partnership of Mumolo and Wiig. Wiig plays a second as Suzanne Gordon Fisherman, an evil albino scientist whose ultimate goal is to destroy the town of Vista Del Mar with the help of her chubby Asian tween cohort Yo-Yo and right-hand servant Edgar, played by Fifty Shades of Grey star, Jamie Dornan. Dornan really shines in this role, playing so far against type that he may have discovered a new viable comedic direction for his career much in the same way that Jon Hamm and Rose Byrne have by working in modern comedy films. Dornan fully commits himself to the concept as a cowed henchman hopelessly in love with the idea of being in love, down to belting out some Michael Bolton-esque power ballads that make you wonder how he’s had this kind of range in him.

This is where Barb & Star Visit Vista Del mar works. It feels at once very improv-driven and that works to its benefit; with bizarre free-range conversations about how amazing women named Trish must be, to perhaps two of the most random and hilarious big-name cameo appearances you’ll see in a film all year. At the same time, it channels that feeling of a character-driven SNL comedy we haven’t had since the original Wayne’s World back in 1992. It’s both old and new and that’s what is refreshing about it. The humor may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but I can see this becoming a cult comedy staple much in the same vein as MacGruber, Zoolander, Popstar: Never Stop, Never Stopping.

If you enjoy surreal humor and are up for seeing some of your favorite comedians just throw themselves full-boar into a funky concept-driven vehicle, then Barb & Star Visit Vista Del Mar might just be the magic elixir you’ve been looking for to get your shimmer on. Watch all the way through the credits and just sit back and enjoy. Comedy is subjective, but you can tell when performers are having a blast making something unique happen and this is definitely one of those films.