Annie Mumolo on the joys of jet-skiing and Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar
At first glance, Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar has a lot in common with Bridesmaids. Both are written by longtime collaborators and friends Annie Mumolo and Kristen Wiig, and both films are sweet, goofy portraits of female friendship, packed with rapid-fire jokes.
But although the just-released Barb and Star shares some comedic DNA with its predecessor, it's also a much zanier and downright weirder film: Wiig and Mumolo star as the titular middle-aged Midwesterners, who leave their Nebraskan hometown for their first-ever tropical vacation. There on the sandy shores of Florida, they find a colorful new world of adventure and romance — along with a villain hellbent on murdering everyone in town, a talking crab who dispenses sage advice, and Jamie Dornan, who at one point sings an emotional beachside ballad surrounded by seagulls.
It's a sunny, unpredictable delight, and it also marks a new spotlight for Mumolo. She and Wiig have worked together since they first met performing with the Groundlings, and in 2012, they earned an Oscar nomination for co-writing Bridesmaids. Since then, Mumolo co-wrote the story for David O. Russell's Joy and has also appeared in comedies like This Is 40 and Bad Moms. But she shines as the Barb to Wiig's Star, gallivanting around Florida with a bubbly optimism and a pastel wardrobe.
With the film now available on demand, EW caught up with Mumolo to talk about jet skis, Dornan, and the journey from Bridesmaids to Barb and Star.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: When did you and Kristen first start talking about this? How long have these characters of Barb and Star been in your heads?
ANNIE MUMOLO: Kristen and I have always been writing together, since the Groundlings, and since we were in our early 20s, we've always gravitated toward these middle-aged women characters. Always. These ladies! Gals! They probably come from a lot of different places in our heads, but some of it's like your mom, some of it's like your aunt and other family relatives. But more and more we're realizing how much they're us. [Laughs] We are these people when we're in our private conversations. It was something we liked to do always. We liked to inhabit these people and give them a voice. We find so much fun and delight in these women.
When we were writing Bridesmaids, it kind of took another step forward. We were writing characters for Lillian's mom, Maya [Rudolph]'s character's mom, and the scenes didn't make the movie. They had nothing to do with the movie. When Kristen and I write, we inhabit all the characters together, and we sort of play all the roles and are all the people, so we found that when we were doing Lillian's mom, we were spending so much time on her and had so many ideas about her. [Laughs] It was like, these don't have anything to do with the movie, so they wound up getting cut. Kristen and I said, "After this, someday we're going to write a movie for these characters." But it takes years. It takes years and years to get a movie made. It's not an overnight process. So this one started maybe five-and-a-half or six years ago.
This and Bridesmaids are obviously two totally different tones, but they're both such a lovely ode to female friendship. What is it about that theme that you love to explore?
I think that the relationships and bonds that women have are quite amazing. Growing up, my mom had this group of friends, and they're still all very close. They're these women who have survived so much together, and they call themselves the Babes. When I call my mom, I'll hear all this wind blowing and a motor going, and she's like, "I can't talk right now, we're out on Barb's boat." [Laughs] It's always like, "I'm with the Babes, I'll call you back." So I always wanted to be around them all the time because they are these really incredible survivors, and their friendship has really gotten them through life.
I feel very fortunate with my female friends, too. With Kristen in particular, we have been through so much together, personally and in work, and yet my relationship with her brings me so much joy. We laugh together. It's very special to me, and I just think there's something about female friendships. You survive things together. It's important, and it's significant.
You and Kristen have obviously known each other and worked together for such a long time. What was different about working together on Barb and Star?
On this one, from the beginning, our approach was, "Let's take these characters and just barrel forward with them freely, without overthinking it. Let's write the most fun version we can, and let's see where we end up." Sometimes as a writer, you know the notes you're going to get. You know what they're going to want you to change. You can see ahead of time, like, "They're never going to let us do this or that." On this one, we put it all in there, like, let's see what happens! [Laughs] We didn't want to censor ourselves as we went.
I'd imagine that would be so freeing, to just be like, "Okay, let's try anything!"
Yeah! And that's not to say it was easy to write this movie. It's very hard to write a movie! We had a lot of rewriting. We worked on this movie for about five years. But everything was in the hope of keeping it in the tone that it was in, and hopefully we would be able to keep it in our voice.
The tone is so delightful and bizarre. How did you want to navigate that sort of silly, campy vibe?
My dad had this woman who worked in his office and ran the front desk. He's a dentist, and she was obsessed with Fabio. She entered a contest to win a ski trip with Fabio. She had the walls papered with Fabio. My dad told her, "People get put off by all these pictures of Fabio when they come to get their teeth cleaned." But it's like that: These characters take joy in things — things that we take for granted. So as far as the tone for the movie, I think that's where we sort of started. We knew that the joy aspect was key.
You get to do a lot of insane things in this movie: There are musical numbers, and you spend a lot of time on a banana boat or a jet ski. What was your most memorable day on set?
There are a lot, but there's a scene where we're rolling around in the sand, and Jamie is playing the saxophone. We shot this montage scene at like 4 in the morning. Kristen and I are rolling around on top of each other, and there was so much sand in our mouths. We were laughing so hard, and sand was going everywhere. Jamie was making sounds come out of the saxophone, and we were looking up at him and seeing him just play his heart out. [Laughs] That was one of my favorites.
And also being on the jet ski. It's kind of terrifying [because] you're out in the ocean, but I love jet skis. That was exhilarating, I would say, although Kristen would say it was terrifying. I was driving it, and she was holding on to me on the back. I was like, "We're fine! Let's go!" and she was like, "Ahh, I don't want to!"
We have to talk about Jamie Dornan, who is just phenomenal. Why was he the right person to play this sort of goofy romantic interest?
I can't say enough about Jamie. He was sort of everything we dreamed of and more. He's such a great dramatic actor, and I feel like the best comedic actors are people who are the best dramatic actors. Jamie had to do something that was so difficult: He had to walk this very fine line. It's almost like walking a tightrope. The way he did that so effortlessly was so fun to experience and watch. You feel lucky to get to be there for that. To have someone with that history of dramatic roles show up and be overflowing with comedic instincts and timing… He's one of the funniest people. I couldn't say enough about that guy.
The musical numbers in this movie are also so insane: Jamie sings a ballad, and there's a big Busby Berkeley-inspired number, too. When did you guys decide, "You know what this movie really needs? Musical numbers!"
Kristen and I always try to work them in, and this is the first time they've actually gotten in! [Laughs] Even in the script, we didn't really think it was going to happen. In the original script, for the first few drafts, it was like, "They get to the hotel, and there's a musical number where people are singing in the rooms, and there's a line about macaroni salad." And we moved past it.
Then [we started production and] they were like, "Okay, so for the musical numbers…" [Kristen and I] were like, "Oh, we're actually doing that?" [Laughs] We were so excited. We love writing musical numbers.
You filmed on location at a beach resort in Mexico. What was it like to take over that beach and film there?
It was very hot. It was Caribbean temperatures in July. We put wigs on, and you get under the lights, and that adds 10 to 15 degrees. And then you put screens up and that blocks out the wind. So it was hot. [Laughs] There were times when we'd be doing scenes where we were out on the sand, and we'd be like, "I'm talking, but I can't see you at all. All I see is like a whiteout." It was so hot and so bright, and we were cooking.
How do you feel about the movie getting released now? I know you were originally planning for a theatrical release, but there's something a little serendipitous about releasing a vacation movie now, when all of us are stuck at home and desperate to go on a trip.
I mean, this year's been crazy. We were sad when we lost the theatrical release, but then as we've gotten closer and we are all locked up and having these tremendously difficult times in isolation, and everyone's got this real s--- going on, we all need something to laugh at. So we've been saying, if people do enjoy this movie at this time, maybe it was meant to be. If it can make anyone smile or lift them out of their living room for a while and give them that escape feeling, it's worth it.
Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar is available on demand now.
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