In ‘Barb and Star,’ an ode to middle-aged joy and culottes

It’s hard to pin down exactly when Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo started dreaming up “ Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar,” but on some level it’s decades in the making. The friends and Oscar-nominated screenwriters have been drawn to middle aged characters going back to their days as young women at the Groundlings. They’d even written Barb and Star-like characters into “Bridesmaids,” in Maya Ruldoph’s Costco-loving mother and friends. That was all cut, however. After all, Mumolo laughed, they had nothing to do with the movie. But they couldn’t stop thinking about how much fun they’d had writing it.

“Kristen said, one day we’re going to write these characters into a movie and we’re going to write freely and we’re not going to overthink anything,” Mumolo said.

And about six years ago they started in earnest, improvising with abandon and playing all the characters as they went. Both wondered at various points whether they were going to be the only ones who would like what they’d written. That anyone agreed to make it was the biggest shock of all.

Now available to rent online, “Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar” is a neon-hued, cocktail-soaked and music-filled bundle of joyous absurdity. Perhaps it shouldn’t have been that much of a surprise that a studio like Lionsgate would want to finance Wiig and Mumolo’s first film since the runaway success of “Bridesmaids.” But “Barb and Star” is definitely weirder and, as more than a few critics have written, is on a wavelength all its own ( for most, that’s been a good thing ).

There’s a talking crab named Morgan Freemand “with a D” who sounds a lot like Morgan Freeman and an evil albino woman plotting to unleash killer mosquitoes on a small town. There’s an extended monologue about the name Trish and a seagull-centric rock ballad sung by Jamie Dornan’s love-stricken character Edgar. And there’s Barb and Star themselves, the culotte-loving Nebraskan “mid-lifers” who decide to treat themselves to a vacation after a friend tells them about the magic of Vista Del Mar.

“It’s just not common that a studio will let you just do something purely in your voice without freaking out,” Mumolo said. “We were just very lucky with them.”

There were some compromises. Originally there were more talking animals than Morgan Freemand. But other aspects only grew in scope and ambition, like the musical numbers, which Mumolo said kind of started out as a joke. They’d always loved writing songs together, but never thought they’d actually make it into the film and on the scale they did, with backup dancers and production value and not just “two people in robes singing.”

The studio even submitted one of their tunes, “I Love Boobies,” sung by Richard Cheese’s lounge singer, for best original song consideration at the Oscars. It did not make the shortlist.

“We actually didn’t know about that until it happened,” Mumolo said. “And we were like, ‘Oh, what about the other songs?’ It’s not a bad one but we probably would have wanted to submit some of the other ones for fun.”

One of the biggest breakouts so far is “Edgar’s Prayer,” performed passionately by Dornan on a seagull-filled beach. A GIF of him tearing his shirt off in the ocean has been making the rounds on Twitter since the film debuted Friday.

Dornan proved to be a bit of a revelation for all. The handsome Irish actor may be most known for dramatic work, but even a passing glance at his Instagram shows that he’s a lot sillier than his brooding roles would suggest.

“You never know until you get there how things are going to go and how people are going to be. But from minute one, he was so perfect. He was just bursting with comedic timing. He’s naturally funny. And he had a very difficult line to walk,” Mumolo said. “It’s really not easy what he did.”

Dornan said that for years he’d been telling everyone he could that he wanted to do comedy. When this came his way, he knew he was in on the name alone.

“Anyone who knows me well knows that I’m not a serious person 99% of the time,” Dornan said. “This just suited me really well.”

When his family visited him on the Cancun set, his wife looked on and laughed.

“She was like, ‘Oh my God, do they know that this is just you? That this is the actual you?’” Dornan said. “I was like, yeah I think they’re starting to realize it.”

And he’s grateful that he now gets to call both Mumolo and Wiig friends.

“They’re two of the funniest people in the world,” Dornan said. “They don’t know how how clever they are to write a movie like this that is so off-the-wall silly, nodding to ‘Top Secret,’ ‘Hot Shots,’ ‘Naked Gun’ and all these ridiculous comedies that people love, but to also have these characters who you truly care about? But my favorite thing is how they make each other laugh more than anyone else in the world makes them laugh. They’re just the right people for each other.”

Mumolo knows this too and thinks that maybe it won’t be another decade before they do this again.

“Having a creative relationship like this? There’s no greater joy other than, like, your children,” Mumolo said.

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Follow AP Film Writer Lindsey Bahr on Twitter: www.twitter.com/ldbahr

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