Kristen Wiig is up in the impressively regular stream of funny women who have come through the Saturday Night Live ranks; her star vehicle Bridesmaids is a bona fide comedy classic. Her co-writer was Annie Mumolo, and Barb and Star is their follow-up film working and now acting together. While Josh Greenbaum’s film is not as disciplined or cohesive as Bridesmaids, it’s a joyfully silly, anything-goes film that would have been a healthy blockbuster counter-programmer in the lost summer of 2020; Barb and Star’s adventures finally arrive on streaming well positioned to blow the winter blues away.
Wiig has taken a number of more serious roles since ascending the heights via comedy; The Skeleton Twins, Hateship, Loveship and Welcome to Me all have a comic angle, but will frustrate those looking for easy laughs. Ambitions as an actress are put aside here for a surreal two-hander comedy that tries to wring a laugh a minute in the style of Airplane and Austin Powers. Even if all the gags don’t land, the endless invention should be applauded. Barb and Star lose their furniture-store jobs and decide to take a holiday to stretch their wings; as two deeply unadventurous types, a trip to Florida is about as wild as things get. But once installed at the Vista Del Mar, a rampant night of pills and three-way sex with the gormless Edgar Paget (Jamie Dornan) throws a spanner in the works of their long and established friendship; which of the girls will land this hunky man, and will their friendship survive?
Patchy isn’t a problem when there’s killer lines in the mix; Barb’s reflective thoughts on Kermit the Frog (who cameos here) hit the mark; eating frogs legs is cruel because he really needs them for riding that bike, right? Mermaids, culottes, submarines, cameos (Reba McIntyre, Andy Garcia), musical sequences, outlandish slapstick, Richard Cheese; Wiig and Mumalo throw the kitchen sink at making us laugh, and enough of it sticks. In particular, the previously lumpen Dornan continues his break-out from 50 Shades ignominy, with a knock-out song for seagulls that hits the notes of a Flight of the Conchords pastiche; Edgar’s Prayer is destined to be a YouTube favourite.
Some critics have complained about the throwaway nature of Barb and Star’s adventures, is if comedy was something that was inferior to drama. I could think of a dozen po-faced awards movies from 20/21 that seem to me to be utterly disposable, but I’m looking forward to seeing Barb and Star several more times. Audiences will self-select, and this kind of surreal French and Saunders/Ab Fab humour isn’t for everyone. But there’s plenty who will dig this silly, seemingly spontaneous, and genuinely pleasing film; moving forward, we need about ten more of these a year just to get by….
Thanks to Lionsgate for access to this title, out now on streaming in the UK and elsewhere.