Review: Barb & Star Go to Vista Del Mar
From the writing team that brought us the hilarious Bridesmaids back in 2011, Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo re-team to write and star in Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar. Originally slated for theatrical release in July 2020, it was pushed back nearly a full year to July 2021, before Lionsgate decided to go with a PVOD release via digital retailers on February 12.
Beyond its wide availability from sources like Apple TV, Hulu, and Fandango Now, Barb and Star is also one of the first PVOD titles to be available for rental on Kaleidescape.
Rental titles—PVOD or otherwise—are new for Kaleidescape, and the company takes a unique approach to delivering them. Unlike streamers, which deliver films in limited, compressed quality, Kaleidescape rentals are downloaded in full quality to an owner’s system just as if the film were purchased, meaning there’s no “rental penalty” with regards to picture or sound
quality. As with other PVOD distributors, Kaleidescape rental titles remain on a user’s system for up to 30 days, but once viewing begins, there’s a 48-hour window in which you can watch the title as many times as you like, starting, pausing, rewinding, forwarding through the film as you would any other title. After the rental period—either the 30 days or 48 hours—has expired, the title disappears from the user’s system.
Another interesting twist with Kaleidescape’s rentals is that if you like the film and decide you want to own it, you can apply one-half of the rental price toward buying the film within 30 days. (This option does not apply to PVOD titles like Barb and Star as they are currently only offered for rental, not for sale.)
Having watched some of the trailers for Barb and Star, I thought I had a pretty good idea what the movie would be
BARB & STAR AT A GLANCE
This wacky, absurd Kristen Wiig vehicle isn’t for everyone but makes for a nice PVOD diversion at a time when new releases are thin.
The images feature bright and vibrant tropical pastels but are sometimes marred by “Portrait mode”-type selective focus.
The Dolby TrueHD Atmos soundtrack is mostly restrained but really comes alive during the big musical numbers.
about: Two single, mid-life-aged female friends taking a vacation where things get a little wild. Turns out I was only about half right. About three minutes into the film, it takes a radical turn I don’t think anyone would see coming. Without spoiling the film, I’ll just say that Kristen Wiig plays two completely different roles—the titular easy-breezy, go-with-the-flow Star and another far less happy-go-lucky, sun-averse Sharon Gordon Fisherman who, due to a sleight that happened years before, has a secret lair and master-villain plot to kill everyone in Vista Del Mar with submarine-launched, weaponized killer mosquitoes.
Barb (Mumolo) and Star work and live together, sharing everything, and have been living a boring, beige, repetitive life lacking any adventure. After the furniture store the ladies work at suddenly closes, they decide to take the advice of friend Mickey (Wendi McLendon-Covey) and head down to Vista Del Mar to have an adventure and get their shimmer back.
While there, the ladies encounter hunky Edgar Paget (Jamie Dornan) at the bar, and after the threesome shares a “Buried Treasure” specialty drink together, they end up having a wild night where the ladies develop feelings. They try to court Edgar separately and secretly, but little do they know that Edgar is involved with Fisherman’s plot and not-so-secretly in love with her.
Things ultimately come to a head when the girls find out they’ve been sneaking around behind each other’s backs and that only they can save the town from the deadly mosquito attack.
For me, the jokes were more chuckles than big laughs. Sure, there are some funny moments scattered throughout but they were just too few and not enough, and I just kept waiting for it to hit, where everything clicked and came together. And I say that as someone who loved Kristen Wiig’s characters on SNL: Aunt Linda, Female A-Hole, Dooneese, Gilly, Sue, Target Lady . . .
The movie is wacky and absurdist and jokes are often played, and played, and played. (Case in point, the whole Trish bit aboard the plane that just goes on . . .) Characters randomly burst into song and dance, there’s a talking crab, a lounge crooner who primarily sings about boobs, and hijinks and romance ensue. It’s cheesy, ridiculous, and random but you’ve got to say this for it: Barb and Star leans-in and fully commits to its gags. And the girls’ wild exuberance, joy of life and the simple things, and comic charisma are what drive the film.
The cast includes cameos by several funny ladies including Vanessa Bayer, Fortune Feimster, Phyllis Smith, Rose Abdoo, who make up a hilarious and mean “Talking Club” (my favorite part of the film, that was sadly too brief), as well as Ian Gomez
as the girls’ boss and Daman Wayans Jr. as a spy that can’t quite keep a secret.
Visually, there’s a lot to love with Barb and Star, especially after the action moves to Florida, where things are filled with bright and vibrant tropical pastels—hot pinks, turquoise blues, gleaming whites. The outdoor shots, scenes around the pool and by the ocean are all sun-drenched and uber-saturated, and could be a travelogue for Florida.
Closeups feature great detail and sharp focus, such as Tommy Bahama’s (Andy Garcia) face, whiskers, and felt hat, or the texture and detail in Fisherman’s white-on-white cape. Many shots, however, almost felt like they were filmed with “Portrait mode” engaged, where any of the actors not in primary focus or objects in the foreground are just slightly (or not so slightly) blurred. Often objects at the edges or corners of the screen were blurred, something especially noticeable when projected on my 115-inch diagonal screen. I would describe the sharpness and detail as a bit uneven.
Sonically, the Kaleidescape rental (and eventual purchase) includes a Dolby TrueHD Atmos soundtrack that serves the primary role of ensuring that dialogue is clearly presented and intelligible. The mix is mostly restrained but useful for
creating ambience, such as the hums and echoes in Fisherman’s lair, announcements at the airport, or sounds of seagulls and waves crashing at the ocean. Sonically, the film really comes alive during the big musical numbers, such as the girls’ welcome to Vista Del Mar, a swirling rendition of “Cheeseburger in Paradise” after they finish the Buried Treasure, and a heavy bass-throbbing rave-feeling version of “My Heart Will Go On.” The sound mix isn’t enough to make or break the film, but it does an admirable job of serving it well.
So . . . this movie . . . I’m gonna say, Barb and Star is not going to be for everyone. In fact, I think it’s going to be one of those polarizing cult classics that people either love and watch over and over (probably with friends and while intoxicated) or they don’t understand at all and will never watch again. For me, this was the perfect rental title, as I’m not sure I’ll never need to join Barb and Star again, but hanging out with the ladies was good for a few laughs.
Probably the most experienced writer on custom installation in the industry, John Sciacca is co-owner of Custom Theater & Audio in Murrells Inlet, South Carolina, & is known for his writing for such publications as Residential Systems and Sound & Vision. Follow him on Twitter at @SciaccaTweets and at johnsciacca.com.