Friday 12 February 2021

Good time gals: "Barb & Star Go To Vista Del Mar"

This summer, it will have been ten years since Bridesmaids became the phenomenon it did, and though it's kept her busy, Hollywood hasn't quite worked out what to do with Kristen Wiig. (Exhibit A: whatever was going on with her crazy cat lady in December's Wonder Woman sequel.) Produced by Will Ferrell and Adam McKay under their Gloria Sanchez Productions shingle, Barb & Star Go To Vista Del Mar represents the best idea the movies have had for Wiig in a while: allow her and Bridesmaids co-writer Annie Mumolo to generate their own material, then cast them in roles they themselves have originated. The resulting film is not a million miles away from those feature-length SNL-derived goofs that were almost exclusively the preserve of male character comics back in the 1990s. For Wayne and Garth or Ferrell and Chris Kattan's Steve and Doug Butabi from 1998's A Night at the Roxbury (how soon we forget), we now have Barb (Mumolo) and Star (Wiig), dreamy middle-aged divorcees from Soft Rock, Nebraska - they're introduced to the strains of Shania's "Man, I Feel Like A Woman", which feels unimprovably right - who float onto our screens beneath the kind of feathercuts that were last fashionable circa 1989. This pair, long-time pals who have a habit of finishing one another's sentences before the other one's started, are capable of wittering for hours about the name Trish; they chuckle through anecdotes about the time they were pursued by an escaped killer; and they're amazed by such banalities as inflight magazines. (One early highlight: Mumolo's pronunciation of cover star Don Cheadle's name, which is exactly how your mum might say it.) Their bond established, Josh Greenbaum's film packs them and their evening culottes off to the titular Florida holiday resort, in the same week an underground terror cell - headed by vengeful paleface Sharon Gordon Fisherman (Wiig again) - is planning to unleash destruction thereabouts in the form of a swarm of genetically modified mosquitoes. That's right: the silly movies are back among us. Nature really is healing.

There would, I suspect, be a level of viewer sympathy for any example of the kind of mainstream comedy that has disappeared from the release docket this past year. The treat is that Barb & Star... is one of the stronger ones. (Its chuckles trail a hitherto unexperienced poignancy: you just know this would have been fun to watch with a good-sized crowd at the Odeon on a Friday night.) From a prologue that involves a paperboy secret agent (Reyn Doi) and an unlikely revival of the Streisand/Gibb duet "Guilty", it's a comedy that has a fair bit going on - or at least enough to make for a lively 107 minutes. Greenbaum and company strike out for a funny place - a gaudy American equivalent of Bournemouth, essentially, decked out by production designer Steve Saklad and art designer Rafael Mandujano in colours that properly pop. (A mainstream American comedy with an aesthetic. Whatever next?) Once unpacked, it crowbars funny people into funny situations, and ensures the funniness gets shared around. You may not have had Jamie Dornan down as a whole bunch of laughs; here, playing the villainous Sharon's johnny-on-the-spot, who has to pose as a "clam inspector" (fnarr fnarr) and inevitably ends up in a Wiig-Mumolo sandwich, he takes home the Eric Bana from Funny People prize for Chiselled Hunk Doing His Best To Subvert All Prior Expectations. The comedy travels in every direction: there's a terrific culotte-related sight gag, one very smart, long-overdue in-joke about steering wheels in movies, and Mark Jonathan Davis as "Richard Cheese" (don't abbreviate), a lounge pianist whose repertoire mostly consists of songs about boobies. Somebody behind the scenes has realised the advantage of working from a fundamentally ridiculous premise is that it frees you to pursue tangents that are only more ridiculous yet. Hence Barb going Florida "native". Hence Star conversing with a crab with a reassuringly familiar voice. (Greenbaum previously signed off on episodes of the wonderful Fresh Off the Boat: good training for this, I think.) God knows we've needed a laugh at various points over the past year. Trading in exactly that throwaway nonsense and non-sequitur that was a feature of the Before Times, Barb & Star... has laughs to spare.

Barb & Star Go To Vista del Mar is available to rent from today via Prime Video and Curzon Home Cinema.

No comments:

Post a Comment