Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar
Look, I’ll start this one by saying Barb and Star Go to Vista del Mar doesn’t make sense. The storyline is melodramatic, the songs come out of nowhere, and there’s a very sparkly deus ex machina. Actually there are a couple all too convenient circumstances for our extremely unlikely heroes...
If we’re judging a movie by how well it matches up to Citizen Kane, Barb and Star wouldn’t medal in any category.
But that’s not at all how we rate things here at Narrative Muse. We’re much more concerned with how well a movie accomplished its own goals. On that level, Barb and Star did everything it wanted to and more.
This film was directed by Josh Greenbaum and was both written by and stars Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo, and it is absolutely ridiculous fun. Imagine “Josie and the Pussycats” crossed with “The Hangover,” starring two middle-aged women whose greatest compliment is “you could be a model for Chicos.”
Wiig and Mumolo, who were also writing partners for Bridesmaids, star as the eponymous Barb and Star. The two have been best friends for decades and roommates (they literally share one bedroom with two twin beds) since one’s husband died and the other’s ran off with another woman. When they’re both fired from their beloved jobs at their small Midwestern town’s premiere furniture store, Barb and Star decide to go on their first beach vacation, together of course, to a small town in Florida.
Unbeknownst to them, their destination, Vista del Mar, is the subject of a devious mass-murder-by-mechanically-engineered-mosquito plot. Obviously. As I said up front, we’re not here for realistic storylines…
Instead, we’re here for a celebration of long-lasting, fulfilling friendship and women chasing their bliss in middle age. Wiig and Mumolo made this movie to be playful, but it’s playing with some serious subjects. Barb and Star start out as comfortable, relatively timid middle aged women. They work retail and talk sedately with their friends, while wearing colorful culottes. By the end of the movie, though, they’re decisive, sexually liberated badasses ready to go up against a bitter rival (also played by Kristen Wiig). As they put it, Barb and Star find their shimmer, and they do it together.
There is romance in Barb and Star, but it’s never central. (It’s very funny though. A musical Jamie Dornan elevates any motion picture from a mere movie to a film, in my opinion.)
Barb and Star is a loud validation of the vitality and agency of a huge population of often unseen people: women past 35 or 40-ish. They are not moms, wives, or cold, high powered business women. They’re largely invisible to everyone except Chicos marketers.
To be fair, Barb and Star highlights a very specific demographic of women: white, Midwestern Americans with comfortable enough jobs. We at Narrative Muse would have loved to have seen a bit more intersectionality, full stop.
The whimsy they did give us was lovely and encouraging, though. I loved getting to see women centered outside relationships to men, children, or work. I loved getting to see a life-giving friendship survive multiple romantic relationships and fight a mass murder plot. As unlikely as any of those things might be.
I’m not saying Barb and Star are role models, and nothing about the actual story of the movie is anything like real life, except, I hope, for their initially nervous pursuit of joy. Barb and Star have desires, flings, adventures, and fun, and they do it together, exactly as I hope I do when I’m their age.