Where Have All the Studio Comedies Gone?

(To "Vista Del Mar," it turns out.)
Barb And Star Go to Vista Del Mar

Welcome to The Queue — your daily distraction of curated video content sourced from across the web. Today, we’re watching a video essay that explores the decline of the studio comedy.

There is a real danger of entering into “old man yells at cloud” territory here. So before we wade any deeper into the Back in the Day It Was Better waters, I want to make it abundantly clear that Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar is a modern masterpiece.

Directed by Josh Greenbaum and co-written, produced, and starring Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo, Barb and Star‘s only crime was a matter of timing. COVID-19 did a real number on a host of theatrical releases, and Barb and Star had the misfortune of a summer 2020 release date. And while the movie has since found a vocal fanbase after hitting VOD (supplemented by a small theatrical run at the end of 2021), if any modern studio comedy deserved to play on a big screen to a packed audience, this was it.

Barb and Star follows two middle-aged midwestern best friends (Wiig and Mumolo) as they take a trip to a Floridian resort after noticing their life lacks “sparkle.” There, they find love and purpose while getting mixed up in the plot of a villainess (also Wiig) who wants to unleash killer mosquitos on the beachfront. Boasting a truly insane joke a minute ratio where every single joke lands, Barb and Star is a remarkably goofy time and a guaranteed mood-booster. If you haven’t seen it, please do.

And yet for all the praise one can heap at Barb and Star‘s feet, the movie is also a perfect opportunity to interrogate the decline of the studio comedy. As the video essay below suggests, Hollywood studios just don’t make ’em like they used to. These days, the studios don’t make straight-up comedies (you know, the kind where people get shot out of cannons, use culottes as parachutes, and have extended life-affirming pep talks from Tommy Bahama). And if they do, their intended destination is streaming services.

Do we really turn to modern movies for a good laugh these days, or do we turn to our phones and streaming services? When something like TikTok exists, is there a demand for comedy-forward studio filmmaking? (There’s that cloud I warned you I’d be yelling at.) I certainly hope so. Because if Barb and Star proves anything, it’s that there’s plenty of gas left in the tank.

Watch “What Happened to Studio Comedies?”:

Who made this?

This video essay on what the hell happened to studio comedies in Hollywood is by Karsten Runquist, a Chicago-based video essayist. You can check out Runquist’s back catalog and subscribe to his channel on YouTube here. You can follow Runquist on Twitter here.

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    Meg Shields: Meg has been writing professionally about all things film-related since 2016. She is a Senior Contributor at Film School Rejects as well as a Curator for One Perfect Shot. She has attended international film festivals such as TIFF, Hot Docs, and the Nitrate Picture Show as a member of the press. In her day job as an archivist and records manager, she regularly works with physical media and is committed to ensuring ongoing physical media accessibility in the digital age. You can find more of Meg's work at Cinema Scope, Dead Central, and Nonfics. She has also appeared on a number of film-related podcasts, including All the President's Minutes, Zodiac: Chronicle, Cannes I Kick It?, and Junk Filter. Her work has been shared on NPR's Pop Culture Happy Hour, Business Insider, and CherryPicks. Meg has a B.A. from the University of King's College and a Master of Information degree from the University of Toronto.