“Barb and Star Go To Vista Del Mar” is a whimsical breath of salty ocean air, an original script and genuine comedy at a time both are hard to find. If your tolerance for quirky humor is low, look for laughs elsewhere.
We’ve been slowly conditioned to accept the distinctions between on-demand and theater quality—there’s something just a bit different about the low-budget fare that skips straight past the box office. Those distinctions are blurring during the pandemic, as high-budget films land on-demand first, right alongside movies never intended to hit the big screen.
Hollywood is in the midst of a serious transition period, adapting to the streaming landscape in ways that will change their business models and the content we consume. Films like “Kid Detective” and “Barb and Star” are good examples of the new model, combining sharp scripts with great casting and production at no risk of breaking the bank or tanking at the box office. In other words, they’re good for 90 satisfying minutes of entertainment that won’t have you checking your phone.
“Barb and Star” is a genuinely hilarious film. It makes no attempt to couple its comedy with a message, cringey politics, or emotional punch, as just about every new entry into the genre seeks to do these days. The movie just wants to make you laugh.
It was clearly a passion project for screenwriters Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo, who seemed to maintain full creative control and ended up with a movie thoroughly reflective of their distinct style. Unlike, say, “Wine Country,” however, “Barb and Star” isn’t littered with lazy inside jokes and bogged down in a lukewarm emotional message. It’s pure comedy.
When Wiig and Mumolo co-wrote “Bridesmaids” a decade ago, they fell into the trap of pairing slapstick with forced emotional drama. That movie, and even “Trainwreck,” are still excellent. But they inspired a lot of bad dramcom copycats (“Brittany Runs A Marathon) that failed to execute the drama because they should have just been comedies.
Not “Barb and Star.” When you let great writers be themselves, you get great results. This film is a refreshing reminder. It’s definitely quirky, and in ways that probably go too far for some viewers, but if you can laugh with the writers of something like “Wet Hot American Summer,” you’ll appreciate “Barb and Star” which, by the way, is also studded with fantastic cameos.
It’s not perfect. The running culottes joke is overdone. Some of the flyover country jabs are gratuitous. The plot occasionally gets a little too ridiculous, even by its own standards. But “Barb and Star” is both original and funny at a time films that check either box, let alone both, are rare. It’s also a great example of what studios can do in the new landscape to keep us entertained and meet their bottom lines.