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Barb and Star Go To Vista Del Mar

Barb and Star

If you ever go, you must absolutely ride the wild prawn

dir: Josh Greenbaum

2021

Well, I guess with a title like that, no-one’s expecting either Masterpiece Theatre or serious stuff for discussion at one’s next dinner party, in between debating the various strengths and weaknesses of the couples on Married at First Sight.

Even though I can’t imagine people having dinner parties. Is…that a thing people do anymore? Or is that something from the old world, before 2.6 million people met their maker at the hands of a fucking airborne virus?

It seems callous to take comfort in silly, frivolous things, but if there’s one thing I’m good at, it’s taking callous comfort in silly, frivolous things and then writing about them as a way of staving off the terror of meaninglessness and oblivion.

Just like everyone else.

Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar is entirely delightful and entirely ridiculous. I was somehow in the perfect mood for this because despite its utter ridiculousness and pointlessness, it made me chuckle, and two hours of my life passed without having to think about the bullshit that life throws at us on a daily basis. And that’s not because it’s brilliantly made, brilliantly acted and carefully crafted with heartwarming messages of universal redemption and meaning.

Because it is none of those things, at all.

It’s pretty fucking dumb, like, deliberately dumb, and about as convincing as an episode of Get Smart, just without the powerful social commentary or stunning fashions.

But it was still enjoyable, and yet talking about the plot at all will make it seem so fucking dumb that no-one would bother watching it on the strength of such a recommendation.

Because the plot is pretty fucking dumb. An evil Bond-like supervillain, played by Kristen Wiig, with severe bangs and albino skin, plots to kill people not all across Florida, which would be a gift to humanity, but specifically at a place called Vista Del Mar.

I don’t know if there’s a real Vista Del Mar, because the place they show in footage isn’t a town: it’s a sandbar with a bunch of hotels on it, making it look like a cruise ship run aground on dry land, but if there is such a place, they’re pretty much doomed anyway, and not because of the machinations of a villain who wants revenge through genetically modified mosquitoes. And even before rising sea levels blanket the site such that nothing but ancient ruins remain.

As if they’d even need that. The current governor of Florida is doing everything he can to kill as many Floridians as possible with the coronavirus, by railing against mask use and lockdowns, and so real world stupidity beats comedy ridiculousness every time.

If anything, this movie is way too kind to the people of Florida. ‘Florida Man’ news articles about the lengths stupid criminals go to attempting to achieve immortality through egregious acts and bonkers crimes have long been a mainstay of tabloid papers and online mockery, and though I suspect many of them are made up, just like a lot of the Darwin Award alleged stories were fabricated, enough of them are true, with the mugshots to prove it, that it’s stuck as a label.

But Barb and Star aren’t Floridians. They’re wholesome middle-aged Nebraskans who’ve never left the state where they’ve lived the entirety of their lives. And though both were married to men for much of their lives, with those men gone because of penis-extension surgeries that went horribly wrong (I’m joking), the ladies live together though not, as used to be described euphemistically as a “Boston Marriage”, way back in the day. No, they’re together more like junior Golden Girls, closer to each other than they’ve ever been to anyone else in their lives.

Such a thing is sweet. It can also be a millstone around one’s neck, in terms of forming new relationships or having the kinds of adventures and experiences one might feel like but feel like their partner-in-crime is holding them back, or even that they’re not entitled to experience new and wondrous delights without the other one being present.

Are they characters rather than caricatures? Hmm, it’s hard to say. They’re pretty broad characterisations, at the very least, but since Annie Mumalo and Kristen Wiig play the characters and co-wrote the script, I have to assume the ladies are playing exactly the characters they want for this to work.

And…to that effect, they imagine a pair of nice but dotty dingbats from a small town who are fairly ignorant about the world, and are pretty cheesy in and of themselves, but they mean well, and they love each other a lot, and thrusting a pair of naïve biddies into a diabolical plot will be funny and not too offensive to the biddies they were hoping to bring along to the cinemas back when cinemas still existed.

But they don’t exist, not anymore, not really. I mean, my daughter went to a cinema last week, but she didn’t go to watch Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar, she went to see Demon Slayer: Mugen Train with her friends. And I reckon even with the vaccines being rolled out all over the place, it’s only a matter of time before all cinemas close forever.

But that’s just me. I’ve always had a fatalistic outlook on everything. Unlike Barb and Star, who are eternal optimists.

So their prospective audience now is middle-aged biddies whose kids or grandkids have set up logins for streaming services on their iPads, through which they can have a raucous time and maybe have a sherry before bedtime. In that very spirit, the ladies decide to go on the trip of a lifetime to a place someone wants to destroy.

To that end the creepy albino lady sends her loyal and devoted henchman Edgar (Jaime Dornan, who is popping up in every absurd film these days, perhaps as penance for those 50 Shades movies), who really, really loves his albino boss, and wants their relationship to be “official”, but creepy albino lady keeps him dangling.

He has to get to Vista Del Mar and do a thing with a microchip, which, you know, is totally still a thing these days, and a device to attract the killer mosquitoes. But then, one night, in a pit of despondency, he does what we all do and drinks something dangerous and takes a bunch of drugs, as do Barb and Star, and then they have a threesome.

Hold the fucking phone, Mabel! These ladies that are all “Jeez” and “Golly gosh!” fuck this absolute unit of a younger chap, and that’s prominent in this alleged family comedy etc etc? Well, I don’t think anyone really thought families should be watching it, and it’s not like they show anything untoward.

But anyway, he’s prepared to kill a whole bunch of people, all to earn the love of someone who doesn’t love him, but he might be falling for one of the ladies, prompting the other one to maybe go off and find herself through showing a bit of individuality and personal drive?

Sounds like a recipe for greatness for me! The problem is, it’s all so fucking farcical, and the movie never pauses because they don’t want you to take long enough to go “hang on a second, what is this nonsense with musical interludes and talking crabs and their strange turtle obsession and fucking culottes?”

Culottes? No, I’m not using a euphemism: they mean the pants that are skirt-like, or the skirts that are pant-like. The ladies really love their culottes. And who knows, maybe they’ll play a role in saving their lives or something?

Kristen Wiig is great in this like she is great in everything, but let’s not pretend this is that great a character. This is like any number of dingbat characters Wiig played during her time on Saturday Night Live, but, hell, it’s Kristen Wiig, and at least she’s a better villain here than she managed to be in Wonder Woman 1984. Annie Mumalo is great too, and you expect her to be the hanger-on, the stringer, but she’s equally good as Wiig with a similarly dingbat character. Jamie Dornan gets a lot of positive press playing a lovesick, I dunno, simpleton / killer, but I think people are being sucked in by his “I’m not a sociopath, I swear” routine. That’s why he’s happy to abase himself in goofy roles, to lull us all into a false sense of security. He’s funny and game enough, but I’m still keeping an eye on him.

There’s also this strange and adorable young boy (Reyn Doi) that the villain has as one of her henchmen, who spends the baffling intro sequence delivering newspapers as a paper boy, only to be revealed as her equivalent of Oddjob from the Bond flick Goldfinger, being a strange Asian stereotype. I think they kinda undermine that by having him be such a darling at crafts and such, yet he’s still murderously keen to help out her schemes. I guess the only problem I had was with his name in the flick, being Yoyo(?) I guess you can point to Yo Yo Ma, world famous cellist and such, but it kinda felt like they were being ironically racist to poke fun at the cliché, which doesn’t really detract from it being actually racist? I dunno, I’m not about to light any fires over it, but it didn’t sit comfortably with me, in a film that’s 90% nonsense anyway.

Lots of gags, lots of dumb gags, some don’t work, enough do, I reckon. I laughed a few times, though admittedly I wasn’t sober at the time, officer (yes, this was a Thursday night watch for me).

It’s okay. It’s an ode to female friendship, as opposed to a film about an odious female friendship, so that’s more than okay.

7 times I think putting molly at the bottom of a hellishly powerful drink is a recipe for lawsuits and fun out of 10

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“This is dangerous. Things happen to people on trips. What if we get lost, or poisoned, or we get a rash? What if they put us in jail because they think we put drugs in our butts? What if we fall out of a car? Have you heard of traveler’s diarrhea, Star? Your stomach doesn’t care where you are, it just releases.” – these are all good reasons why I never travel - Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar.

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