(Minor SPOILERS for a film that literally came out on home video on Tuesday)
Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar (dir. Josh Greenbaum, 2021) was not nominated for the Best Editing Academy Award this year. This is hardly a surprising development as comedy has historically had a difficult time breaking through the Oscar barrier, especially in the technical categories. That’s incredibly unfortunate because editing is a vital part of what makes comedy films funny, and Barb and Star is a textbook example of remarkable editing put into practice.
Now, I really hate to be that guy who explains why things are funny, but I think this aspect of comedic filmmaking doesn’t get as much credit as acting or writing. In Barb and Star, the editing serves two purposes in order to make the comedy more effective: in order to create an absurdist world past the words the characters are saying and to finely tune the rhythm of comedic moments.
In the first instance, editor Steve Welch expands on the absurdity of what’s occurring in a film that includes such things as multiple impromptu musical performances and an evil plot involving mosquitoes killing everyone at a food festival. This is done mainly through the sequencing together of dialogue scenes that creates rapid fire conversations that seem almost unearthly, putting us in a comedically heightened version of our world. Another, less prominent example is when (and this is admittedly more of a combination of editing, cinematography, and blocking pulling something ambitious off) a scene occurs where Barb (Annie Mumolo) sneaks out of her room to see Edgar (Jamie Dornan) and they go on a walk around Vista Del Mar which is followed by a scene where Star (Kristen Wiig) sneaks out of her room to see Edgar and they go on a walk around Vista Del Mar. The scenes are completely identical in length and staging, save for replacement of each main character, to each other, giving another layer of comedy to an already amusing scene.
The other way Welch impacts the effect of Barb and Star is in the way he splices in shots to affect the rhythm and length of scenes. A notable recurring example is when long running comedic bits are broken up with the mundane, but bizarre, goings on of Barb and Star’s friend group. This is done not only to subvert our expectations of the scene, but in order to make sure the scene doesn’t stale comedically. Timing is used to different effect in a scene where Barb and Star reflect on their friendship in a montage scene. In the montage there are shots from the film where the two friends genuinely share touching moments with one another, but that gives way to more asinine shots of other happenings of the movie, like the pouring of soup into a bowl and a shot of magazine with a Don Cheadle interview. This has the opposite result of the other sequence, elongating scenes past what we expect them to do and creating something simultaneously absurd and touching.
Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar is an absurdist masterstroke for all of the work done behind the camera, but the editorial department led by Steve Welch deserves particular praise. The work done on Barb and Star allows it to transcend the quality gap of most write-point-shoot comedies prevalent in today’s studio release calendars. Hopefully, the arrival of this film causes a groundswell of support for comedies as a technical achievement.
Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar is streaming on all major VOD platforms.