Cinema has awarded us a host of dynamic female duos: Thelma and Louise immediately come to mind, bracing each other hand in hand as they descend off the cliff, as do Velma Kelly and Roxie Hart, the ultimate frenemies desperate for fame at any cost.
Cast your mind back to our positively riveting dissection of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes for our reverent deep dive into Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell, or flick back to our celebration of my all-time favourites, Romy and Michele. There is something magical about witnessing two women share the screen and seduce the audience with palpable chemistry. And let’s be real: you know that behind every one of the aforementioned queens, there’s a gay man somewhere in the world naming their cat after them. But this month we’re celebrating a more modern duo, two women whose love for each other is matched only by their love of coordinating florals and sun hats.
Grab your best Judy and join us as we pay overdue homage to the future cult classic fever dream that is Barb and Star Go to Vista del Mar.
Lifelong friends Barb and Star embark on the adventure of a lifetime when, freshly fired from their jobs, they decide to leave their small Midwestern town for the first time ever. When one of their friends comes back from Vista Del Mar, Florida, raving about how it’s a paradise for middle-aged women on the lookout for love, widow Barb and divorcée Star decide to mosey on over to the sunshine state.
Upon arrival, they find accommodations at the luxurious Vista Del Mar Hotel and resolve to try many excursions, particularly an inflatable banana inner tube ride. In their bumbling buffoonery, Barb and Star (naturally) find themselves embroiled in a dastardly villain’s plan to unleash lethal mosquitos on the world, with clumsy espionage and bewildering romance with Jamie Dornan ensuing.
Gloriously nicknamed a ‘bananapants brain vacation’ by queer online publication Autostraddle, the movie unites Kristen Wiig and her Bridesmaids co-writer Annie Mumolo, and how could anything from the masterminds behind Bridesmaids be anything other than an unmitigated delight?
This film is inherently very straight – no outwardly queer characters, only a flashing moment of polyamory between our leading trio – but it is super gay. The premise may be linear, but between its musical numbers, stupid jokes (a crab named Morgan Freemond appears…yes, with a D), and hallucinogenic production design, the film feels like John Waters was given a Hollywood budget to make a buddy comedy.
Wiig has long been a character actress adored by queer audiences, and so many of her personas veer very left of kilter. The madness of the movie is married with real heart and intimacy between the two women, which results in a joyous ride for the audience. You can tell Wiig and Mumolo are having the time of their lives, and the feeling is contagious.
I live in the eternal hope, however, that time is kind to the film and that pop culture embraces Sharon Fisherman, who I believe to be the breakout character of the film. An eccentric, Tilda Swinton-makes-Dr Evil villain, Fisherman is plotting against the inhabitants of Vista Del Mar. Sharon lived there as a child, and her freakish white skin and sensitivity to the sun made her a social pariah. She plans to unleash lethal mosquitos, killing everyone. She is comedy gold of the highest order, with a bizarre voice and idiosyncrasies only Kristen Wiig (maybe Aubrey Plaza…) could pull off.
It is alarming how no one seems to ever dress as her for Halloween, or that she has yet to appear in any iteration of RuPaul’s Drag Race as a Snatch Game character, as she is comedy gold, begging for imitation. Let this be a rallying cry, Halloween gays.
While typically I dedicate substantial space to dissecting our films’ costuming, celebrating all that highlights the glamour and prestige of our illustrious inductees, it pains me to admit that Barb and Star’s clothes are resolutely hideous. And the film is better for it. We bask in the trashy, floral print, high-vis attire our duo dons: they are two middle-aged Midwestern women on vacation, what can one expect? Let me tell you: huge sun hats, ill-fitting shorts, kaftans, and heart-shaped sunglasses. Atrocious? Absolutely. But these women are on vacation, okay? They’ve had a tough ticket; they can dress like garbage if they want!
However, what truly elevates Barb and Star to its NGMC prestige is the appearance of Trish, a mythical water spirit played by legendary thin-lipped country diva Reba McEntire. Her character is a fictional creation Barb and Star invent themselves and refer to frequently throughout the film, but she majestically appears near the end, in the unexpected form of Ms McEntire herself. The character is no more ludicrous than her casting.
Ultimately, it is the relationship between our two leading ladies that sells this film. And hopefully we all have that pal to endure the tumultuous trials of life with, as well as basking in its more lunatic moments. It is apparent that Wiig and Mumolo are best friends in reality: you can’t fabricate the chemistry between them, and it elevates Barb and Star above your average buddy comedy. Even better, the warmth of the characters invites the audience for the ride, and we get to be part of their gleeful gallivant.
Endlessly quotable, absurd, and heart-warming, I welcome Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar with a tied tongue and open arms into The (Not) Gay Movie Club. Listen, summer is officially over: warm yourself in the soothing, if surreal, waters of Barb and Star, and have a piña colada on us.