The dictionary defines “culottes” as knee-length or calf-length pants cut to look like a skirt. Did you know that? Now you do. It’s weird to open a movie review with a definition, isn’t it? And I don’t think this information is all that crucial. But the filmmakers behind the new comedy Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar decided it was fundamental enough to the plot of the film to open with it on a title card. And I wondered: Why is this random definition so central to this plot? Who doesn’t already know what culottes are? Is there something wrong with me for already knowing what culottes are? Is this film for me? Or is it already too cool for me? Within 60 seconds, this movie got me deeper inside my brain than I’ve been in months, and then it went on for another 104 silly, charming, and seriously wacky minutes.
Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar follows lifelong friends Barb (Amy Mumolo) and Star (Kristen Wiig) as they lose their beloved jobs at a furniture store that’s widely regarded as the hottest place in their town of Soft Rock, Nebraska, and then, as single 40-somethings with nothing to lose, they embark on a dream vacation to Vista Del Mar, Florida.
Hang on, that’s not it. The movie starts with the definition of culottes, as I've already mentioned. Then there’s a bit in a science dungeon where another character played by Kristen Wiig—except evil—raves about a new weapon that will cause deadly swarms of mosquitoes to murder people. THEN it’s all that stuff with Barb and Star. There’s a standing rule with movies that they have to wrap up exposition and start moving the plot forward within 20 minutes, and sure enough, it takes precisely that long for Barb and Star to be on their vacation. But what’s been established isn’t just that a couple broads are taking a trip; it’s that this movie is fucking nuts.
I don’t want to tell you much more about what happens because the insanity and surprise is what makes this fun, and also because my notes read like they were written in the midst of a fever dream of someone who’d been sniffing glue (they weren’t). So I will just say this: Barb and Star go on to have a wild time in Vista Del Mar, falling into a love triangle, solving crimes, and looking awesome. (Culottes!) Additionally, Jamie Dornan of Fifty Shades of Grey fame stars as a compelling object of lust for Barb and Star. While he seems initially out of place, once he sings to a seagull, he's transformed into the irresistible hunk he should've been in Fifty Shades; I was a biting my lip like a regular Anastasia Steele! Later, Damon Wayons appears as—maybe a spy?? not clear—but the most relatable bit of this trip is when his character, while in deep disguise, wears a surgical mask. “Oh look, a normal person,” I thought to myself, pandemically.
BASGTVDM is from the same team who brought us Bridesmaids, although I hesitate to point that out, because this is very not that. Bridesmaids was funny stuff happening in a seemingly normal universe, whereas Barb and Star are basically middle-aged midwestern MacGrubers in Talbots who exist beyond normality. The result is confusing, but delightful. It’s like if you gave Skittles to Ben Franklin and told him it was food; it would take him a minute to believe you, but then he’d admit it was pleasant. Yes, this movie experience is akin to someone born in 1706 trying modern candy.
Look, after the year we've been through, you owe your brain something new to chew on. It may as well be the vacation of a lifetime with Barb and Star in Vista Del Mar.
Watch Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar on-demand on Amazon Prime Video and Google Play starting February 12.