It’s been a year where any kind of escapism is welcome. This is especially true when the escapism dabbles in absurdity. The creative team from Bridesmaids, (with the exception of Paul Feig) are at it again with their extremely enjoyable foray: the titular soul-douching Vista Del Mar.
Here’s the thing; you’ve met a Barb and a Star in your life. They are recognizable and relatable due to the down-to-earth, casual fun of Annie Mumolo and Kristen Wiig. These are two small-town ladies with teal ocean and dayglow beach dreams. You know their quiet sorrow and aspirations already, and Wiig and Mumolo are betting on that in order for you to buy-in to these ludicrous yet endearingly milquetoast characters.
Immediately lulling you into a false sense of security, there is a joyous, twee-comedy introduction of an anachronistic young boy on a bike, delivering papers and lip-synching to a security blanket slow jam of early eighties goodness. This is obviously heightened, and comes off as the same tone as the sing-along at the end of Bridesmaids; which is simultaneously a tribute to the song and a mockery of the intense fandom that “Hold On” had in that film.
Here, the film takes a sharp right turn into footage that feels like it ended up on the cutting room floor of Robert Rodriguez’s Spy Kids franchise. This reveals the driving plot of the film and introduces Jamie Dornan’s aloof, love-drunk Edgar - in all of his himbo glory- trying to woo Sharon Gordon Fisherman (Kristen Wiig in what looks like a cosplay manifestation of her id).
The camera cuts hard to Barb and Star in Soft Rock, NE (no, it does not exist) on a couch talking it out in a Jennifer Convertibles. This is the perfect employer for Barb and Star. It is extremely outdated, yet totally endearing. For instance, you are never as excited when you enter a Jennifer Convertibles as opposed to going into an IKEA, but you go to Jennifer Convertibles for comfort, and that’s about it. After they learn that their store is closing -undoubtedly due to Barb and Star’s inability to sell anything, they head to their talking club. What a treat this was!
The talking club becomes a recurring figure throughout the film. It begins with hot dog soup, Rose Abdoo, Fortune Feimster, Vanessa Bayer, and Phyllis Smith having a themed discussion every night. When not speaking, if you squint really hard, you can actually see the little daggers coming out of all of the talking club’s eyes while looking at each other. (Kidding, but you can feel it!) It becomes apparent that Vanessa Bayer is the Queen Bee, making sure all of the conversations are on-topic, regardless of how much the talking club participants may want to veer off course. After being chastised and excluded from the talking club due to veering off-topic, Barb and Star are emboldened to take a journey by themselves.
To borrow the parlance of Barb and Star, when they get to Vista Del Mar, well, that’s where it gets cuckoo bananas. Yet again, the absurdity is heightened when you realize that this comedy-adventure-spy romp also has full-on musical segments. To be clear, we are not full-on Busby Berkley, but there are a lot of full-on, glorious silver-age musical numbers.
The entire soundtrack for that matter feels like the forgotten yacht-rock classics of yore. It’s full of lovely surprises and forgotten gems that will make you think "all mai tais, all day." I’m honestly surprised at the omission of the Sloppy Boys and their album Dancing on the Wind.
Whilst in Vista Del Mar, Barb and Star have their own prerogative of bucket-list adventures, which gets quickly derailed with a magical drink in the lobby and the meeting of Edgar. After a hypnotic, drunken tryst, both Barb and Star begin their pursuit of Edgar, which turns into a delightful, uh, C plot? That being said, if you are watching this movie for the plot, you are missing the point entirely. It’s there and has its function, but come to this movie prepared to laugh and remove your plot hole seeing monocles. They are not welcome in Vista Del Mar. Sure, Bizarro-evil-Kristin Wiig -Sharon Gordon Fisherman- has a substantial backstory, including the traumatizing catalyst which started her on a journey to destroy the annual Seafood Jam with killer mosquitoes, but like the majority of the visuals, it’s enjoyable fluff.
After landing in Vista Del Mar, the film begins to truly sing, literally. The pursuit of the potential relationship with Edgar and Barb, or Edgar and Star, rightfully lampoons so many romantic comedies by taking a carbon copy of their “date” scenes and CTRL+V’ing it for both Barb, Star, and directly into our hearts. At this point, Dornan’s lust for both sides of the Kristen Wiig coin crescendos with a scene-stealing musical debut for Dornan that is as impressive as the buffet at the Hotel Vista Del Mar.
There is a sharp contrast between Soft Rock and Vista Del Mar visually. In Soft Rock- like our humdrum quotidien- it is a sea of desaturated stale colors. How many shades of tan and grey are there, do you ask? Soft Rock Nebraska answers: just enough to not call attention to anything at all. In comparison, Vista Del Mar seems like if David La Chapelle had to dress David Bromstad (host of Million Dollar Dream Home) and he could only use the color palettes in his work. It is in fact, a super-saturated and borderline eye-straining bright and vivid dayglow assault. Surely, I am not the only one noticing the outfits that David Bromstad wears, right? To summarize, it is a kitsch tiki-fetishist wet dream.
Coupled with the aesthetic cameos in the film are a wide array of cameos, one of which is the post-lounge mainstay Richard Cheese of Lounge Against the Machine, in addition to one of my personal favorites: that one guy, from that one thing - Michael Hitchcock. There is also a magical character interlude with a delightful new lens while still being extremely tongue-in-cheek. Finally, there is a perfect suburban lady-dream fulfillment towards the end of the movie that is too on the nose to spoil here.
In a bizarre, serious twist, the set design beautifully conjures up the "Wasted Away in Margaritaville" perpetual vibes of the fictitious Vista Del Mar, so much so, that there was a feature about it in Architectural Digest. To their credit, the production team packed this film with vibrant neon quirks, eccentricities, and tourist traps, a - "Oh, is that a shell bracelet stand? Ooo, I love these!"- plenty.
After their dalliances, Barb and Star take some time away from each other whilst secretly reconvening repeatedly with Edgar, and rest assured, their adventures are an intriguing, and tit-flappin’ good time. Star’s adventures lead her to ludicrous sexual encounters with Edgar, and Barb goes on a harrowing path of self-discovery -sort of. Barb’s journey is packed with parodies of all of the spring break “transformational” moments and proves to be a jarring and hilarious romp.
Barb and Star Go To Vista Del Mar was such a refreshing change of tone from the eternal doomscape that was 2020. It was stupid, vibrant, beautiful, and absurd, as breezy as Barb and Star’s omnipresent culottes.
Jordan graduated in 2009 from Susquehanna University with a degree in Creative Writing and Film Studies where he met his wife. In spite of God's will, he published his first book PESTS with Lloyd Kaufman; the CEO of the independent stalwart Troma Entertainment. You can see him being snarky and cynical on Twitter and Instagram @settlingstatic, and you can find him being deeply, deeply nerdy on Reddit @SkywardJordan.