I’m hesitant to describe Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar as an absurdist comedy because the “absurdities” always land perfectly. For example, the opening titles have paperboy Reyn Doi singing along to the entirety of Guilty (Barbara Streisand and The Bee Gees) and then getting into a tree elevator. By the time Doi gets to the tree elevator (which takes him to a James Bond villain lair), thanks to the song, Barb and Star has already made clear anything is possible.
The film intros the villains—Kristen Wiig, who has a form of albinism (with a silly name), and her henchmen, Roi and Jamie Dornan. Roi is her (kidnapped) adopted son, and Dornan is her hopeless devotee; he’ll do anything if she’ll just make their romance official. The villain setup comes before we even meet Barb and Star, Annie Mumolo, and (also) Wigg; they also wrote and co-produced the film, so one would assume they’d know how to script themselves. They do, of course, but as the writers, Mumolo and Wigg give all the parts–even the bit parts–apt showcases. There are a bunch of solid comedy cameos, like Wendi McLendon-Covey, Patrick Bristow, Vanessa Bauer, Phyllis Smith, and Michael Hitchcock. There are a couple more well-executed cameos throughout, even when the performances aren’t great because the joke’s in the delivery, the performer identity a bonus. The latter gets a smile, the former gets the laugh.
Mumolo and Wiig—I’m going to call villain Wiig villain Wiig whenever she comes up; otherwise, it’s regular Wiig—are a couple small-town gals who find themselves in a situation where they’ve got the disposable income to go on a resort vacation. They head off to Vista Del Mar, a vacation paradise tucked away on the Floridian coast, obviously not realizing villain Wiig’s plan to release killer mosquitos is nearing execution. Dornan’s on-site to get everything set, which will also require a second bad guy, an actually absurd Damon Wayans Jr. (he’s the only example of dragging a joke until it’s funny, but thanks to a master-of-disguise bit, it works out well). But after villain Wiig blows him off on their not-yet-official boyfriend and girlfriend phone call, he gets wasted with tourists Mumolo and Wiig.
Both Mumolo and Wiig sort of fall for Dornan, who’s not used to having women actually return his affections (whether romantic or platonic), and Barb and Star becomes a combination buddy picture, Bond spoof, romantic comedy, and self-empowerment journey. With the occasional musical number and a lot of sight gags. Mumolo and Wigg—as writers—have incredible timing with the humor and then act it accordingly, director Greenbaum either getting out of their way or giving them the support when needed. Steve Welch’s editing is the technical superstar. Whether it’s one of the musical numbers or a lengthy comedy set-piece, Welch’s cutting is flawless. The timing of it all—the writing, the acting, the editing—plus the perfect soundtrack, it’s superb.
And one of the reasons calling it absurdist seems reductive. Barb and Star is never reductive; it’s always going for the next joke or punchline, leveraging the somewhat folksy, not uncynical positivity of its protagonists. It’s an excellent comedy and an excellent showcase for Mumolo and Wigg as actors, writers, and producers.
Best performance is Mumolo. Just the way the love triangle and character development arcs shake out. Wiig’s also got two parts, and there are stretches where it seems one is getting more emphasis than the other. Dornan’s hilarious and good. Not like “see his Fifty Shades movies” good, but good. Doi’s great. He’s missed when he’s not around, but whenever he shows up, it always pays off, which tracks.
Barb and Star always pays off.