The Writers of ‘Bridesmaids’ Ramp Up the Delightful Absurdity in ‘Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar’

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Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar (CREDIT: Lionsgate/YouTube Screenshot)

Starring: Kristen Wiig, Annie Mumolo, Jamie Dornan, Damon Wayans Jr., Michael Hitchock, Reyn Doi, Kwame Patterson, Vanessa Bayer, Fortune Feimster, Rose Abdoo, Phyllis Smith, Wendi McClendon-Covey, Richard Cheese

Director: Josh Greenbaum

Running Time: 107 Minutes

Rating: PG-13 for Very Playful (and Kind of Explicit) Sexual Dialogue

Release Date: February 12, 2021 (On Demand)

A young boy in a canary yellow hat rides his bike down a picturesque suburban street while delivering newspapers and singing along to “Guilty,” the 1980 Barbra Streisand/Barry Gibb smooth jazz duet. Encountering a robot owl, he heads purposefully underground into a world of intrigue. A super-secret, super-important mission appears to be afoot. And that’s when we meet Barb and Star (Annie Mumolo and Kristen Wiig, respectively), two fortysomething best friends who appear to have absolutely nothing to do with everything we’ve seen up to this point. Instead, they spend their days gabbing away about whatever absurd notions pop into their heads while sitting on one of the showroom couches at the furniture store where they work. But alas, horror of horrors: the store is closing forever, and Barb and Star have no idea what to do with all their newfound free time! They could hang out at their rigidly regimented friend group gabfest (run by a fantastically tightly wound Vanessa Bayer), but then an opportunity comes knocking in the form of a vacation to the resort town of Vista Del Mar. They’ve never been the type to venture outside their hometowns, but heckfire, what better time than now to throw caution to the wind and spread their wings!

Often when reviewing movies, I like to ask myself, “Does this film make me want to do the thing it says in its title?” So with that in mind, does Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar make me want to go to Vista Del Mar? And the answer is … heck yeah! It’s a beachside town full of bright colors, romance, magic, and Mark Jonathan Davis as his lounge act persona Richard Cheese singing naughty songs in a hotel lobby, after all. And if I could spend my stay there right alongside Barb and Star and their versatile culottes, oh wow, would I be in hog heaven. The world has made no effort to stop them from being who they really are, and their conversations reflect that, as Wiig and Mumolo bring an astounding improvisatory yes-and energy to every single one of their interactions.

There’s also so many more elements in this movie that I haven’t mentioned yet, mostly because I don’t want to mention them, as this is the most satisfyingly unpredictable comedy I have seen in quite some time. Wiig and Mumolo co-wrote the screenplay, and it feels like a passion project of two best friends daring each other to indulge in their most outré excesses. Playing straight(-ish) man to their whirligig of whimsy is Jamie Dornan, who seems to have found his perfect niche as a lovelorn hopeless romantic agent of espionage. Also of note: Wiig pulls double duty as a supervillian best left unremarked upon, Damon Wayans Jr. shows up for a running gag of very silly inadvertent secret-revealing, and Barb and Star’s conversations about a hypothetical woman named “Trish” eventually pay off handsomely. In conclusion, this is one of those funny flicks that delights me immediately and endlessly, but I’m not quite sure how to fully put into words why it makes me feel that way (the last few paragraphs notwithstanding). But I hope to continually revisit it and think about it much more in the coming years and then explain it as best I can when the proper time comes along.

Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar is Recommended If You Like: Zoolander, Hot Rod, AM Radio hits of the 70s

Grade: 4 out of 5 Seafood Jams

John Patrick Shanley Turns Back on the Classic Romantic Charm in ‘Wild Mountain Thyme’

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Wild Mountain Thyme (Credit: Kerry Brown/Bleecker Street)

Starring: Emily Blunt, Jamie Dornan, Jon Hamm, Christopher Walken, Dearbhla Molloy, Danielle Ryan

Director: John Patrick Shanley

Running Time: 102 Minutes

Rating: PG-13 for Mild Adult-ness

Release Date: December 11, 2020 (Theaters and On Demand)

Do you despair at the lack of nakedly emotional romantic movies nowadays? Have you spent the past 33 years wondering when the next Moonstruck is going to finally come along? Do you believe it’s time to send Jon Hamm to Ireland? Well has John Patrick Shanley got just what you asked for! The screenwriter behind “Snap out of it!” and “Why do men chase women?” has taken his talents to the Emerald Isle for Wild Mountain Thyme, a windswept tale about two people who sure appear to be very much in love, though it takes them quite a while to fully consummate their passion. As with Moonstruck, the fun is less about wondering whether or not they end up together and more about how emotionally discombobulated they become by resisting where their passions obviously lie.

As the film begins, Christopher Walken intones, “Welcome to Ireland,” and I’m thinking, “I’m pretty sure Mr. More Cowbell is definitely not Irish, but I nevertheless feel as welcome as possible.” Walken plays Tony Reilly, father of Jamie Dornan’s Anthony (the “h” is silent and everyone hits that “t” as hard as they possibly can). The elder Tony is in a financial bind, so he’s set to sell the family farm to his American nephew Adam (Jon Hamm). That puts a damper on Anthony’s seemingly inevitable marriage to Rosemary Muldoon (Emily Blunt), who had envisioned the two of them enjoying wedded bliss in the countryside. Anthony and Rosemary have basically been in love ever since they were kids, and everyone knows this. But for some reason Anthony cannot bring himself to pop the question, and honestly I’m not sure what his problem is. But I suspect that’s kind of the point. The best explanation the movie offers us is that he’s suffering from the vaguely defined familial strain of “Kelly madness” (Kelly being the surname of his grandfather).

Anthony’s dithering is so extreme that anyone watching is liable to wonder why Rosemary doesn’t just move on. And she’s not lacking for options, as there’s a scene that begins with her announcing “Today’s the day,” which leads to her making an impromptu trip to New York City (to the tune of Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake score, no less) where she meets up with Adam and develops a quick natural repartee with her beloved’s cousin. And when she returns to Ireland, Anthony even attempts to push her in that direction. But somehow I am ultimately convinced by Shanley’s machinations and Blunt’s sheer force of will that Anthony and Rosemary really are going to make it work somehow. The way he digs in his heels should be disqualifying, but the situation only gets sillier and sillier, and thus more and more charming. Maybe we could all use a little bit of Kelly Madness in our lives.

Wild Mountain Thyme is Recommended If You Like: Moonstruck, Taking a while to snap out of it, Ireland, Jon Hamm-centric subplots

Grade: 3.5 out of 5 Farms

This Is a Movie Review: ‘Fifty Shades Freed’ is Just as Boring as Its Predecessors, But More Histrionic and Pointless

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CREDIT: Universal Pictures

This review was originally posted on News Cult in February 2018.

Starring: Dakota Johnson, Jamie Dornan, Eric Johnson, Max Martini, Brant Daugherty, Arielle Kebbel, Fay Masterson, Luke Grimes, Eloise Mumford, Rita Ora, Marcia Gay Harden, Tyler Hoechlin, Hiro Kanagawa

Director: James Foley

Running Time: 105 Minutes

Rating: R for The Usual T&A, Sometimes Involving Ice Cream, Plus a Climactic Gunshot

Release Date: February 9, 2018

Fifty Shades Freed is just as boring as the rest of the Grey/Steele saga, and the whole S&M hook has ceased to be a big deal ever since the first entry was released. It’s not like it was ever that big a deal in the first place, though enough people were titillated by the promise of transgression to result in a phenomenon. But now that the aftershocks are nowhere near as explosive, what is the point? With Christian (Jamie Dornan) and Ana (Dakota Johnson) comfortably married, the whole frisson of inappropriateness is eliminated, and all Fifty Shades Freed has to fall back on is a fairly boilerplate tale of revenge and kidnapping.

The troubles that apparently drive the action involve Ana’s former boss Jack (Eric Johnson), who blames her for his firing, so he resorts to stalking to exact his revenge. There is never any tension that suggests that Jack will not be dispatched by the end or that it makes it thrilling at all in the moment. From a narrative standpoint, it exists, I guess, so that Christian can save Ana, thus solving any and all current and future marital troubles. Because the thing is, the struggles between the two of them have little to do with the parameters of their kinkiness and everything to do with emotional maturity or lack thereof. Christian is overly controlling and protective, and hilariously unprepared for the prospect of being a father. I worry about the long-term viability of this union, not because a possibility for abuse, but rather because any fundamental compatibility is just not there, and the shallow picture-perfect ending cannot convince me otherwise.

While the sex scenes are essentially window-dressing at this point, they are still the main attraction (along with the luxury travel porn). There is certainly some excitement to being in a crowded theater as the camera almost zooms in on a hardcore reveal. But if you are going to venture out to see this sort of action instead of pulling it up on your computer, there ought to be some romance leading up to it. But the two leads have just never managed to summon any significant chemistry.  Johnson is perpetually unsure what kind of movie she is in, alternating playing it straight with occasionally venturing a mildly subversive line reading that would fit a version of this movie that makes fun of itself. Dornan, meanwhile, sleepwalks through the whole thing. Arielle Kebbel, as an architect who gets a little too flirty with Christian, is the only one to zero in on a satisfyingly campy tone, but she is barely utilized. All this confusion is inherent to a traditional center attempting to be transgressive.

Fifty Shades Freed is Recommended If You Like: Porn Minus the Romance, Melodramatic Revenge Plots

Grade: 1.5 out of 5 Boobs in Boobland