Gillian Jacobs heads up a strong trio of female comic actors in a knockabout trip around Europe that squeezes moments of hilarity into a barebones plot
L ast year, in a belated attempt to redress the balance, a party busload of films was released that saw women drinking, partying and casual sexing in ways that have usually been reserved for their male counterparts. There was Scarlett Johansson dealing with the death of a stripper in the dark, intermittently funny Rough Night, Toni Collette and Molly Shannon leaving the kids at home in Fun Mom Dinner, the cast of Bad Moms returning with diminishing returns in A Bad Moms Christmas and Tiffany Haddish transforming into a one woman comic phenomenon in crowd-pleasing box office hit Girls Trip. The results were mixed but the message was clear: the post-Bridesmaids boom in comedies fronted by groups of very funny women was finally happening.
In new Netflix comedy Ibiza, produced by Will Ferrell and Adam McKay, three very funny women have been niftily cast as ride or die best friends. There's often talk of a "chemistry test" used in the auditioning process for romantic leads but there's an easy, snappy rapport between the trio here that feels like the result of something similar. Harper (Gillian Jacobs) is sick of life in New York City and sick of her vapid job working for a PR firm. It doesn't help that her boss Sarah (a spiky Michaela Watkins) is a dragon, forever spewing nasty one-liners at her while failing to recognize her hard work. But in a surprise move, Sarah tells Harper that she has to fly to Barcelona for the weekend in order to secure a new client, a major opportunity for her to finally show her worth.
When Harper tells her friends Nikki (Vanessa Bayer) and Leah (Phoebe Robinson), they tell her they're coming along, whether she likes it or not. After partying hard in Spain, Harper meets superstar DJ Leo (Richard Madden) but before they get a chance to spend any time together, he heads to Ibiza for his latest gig. Despite her work responsibilities, Harper decides to follow him, friends in tow, to secure the man of her dreams.
There's a looseness to the dialogue between the friends that manages to avoid the feeling of self-indulgent improv and instead has a naturalistic yet sharp vibe. The film works best when it's just the three women talking about sex, or dating, or work, and it's in these quieter, less plot-heavy moments that the film really soars. There's genuine laughter in the more grounded interactions and we're sold almost instantaneously on the believability of their long-term friendship.
But there's nothing inherently commercial about these chats so instead they're used as cushioning for a series of more extravagant comic set-pieces in the framework of a plot that runs on zaniness and extremity. Some of these moments work well (Bayer falling between two hotel beds, Robinson hopelessly corralling her drunk friends in the street) but often, it feels a bit too broad. The shaggy plot is wafer thin at best, relying too heavily on familiarity (a character going wild after taking too many drugs has now become an unavoidable staple of the contemporary comedy) and as charming as Madden is, we're never quite sold on him being the impetus for such a major left-turn. The silliness is charming but often forced, the hit to miss ratio weakening the wilder the film gets.
One could also argue that Harper's two friends aren't developed far beyond some brainstormed adjectives, but thankfully the dialogue remains sparky throughout and the women all bring their a game, even when confronted with same slapstick. Jacobs and Robinson are both excellent yet it's Bayer who steals scenes. Despite sterling work on Saturday Night Live, she's not received the cinematic screen time that, say, Kate McKinnon has managed, and usually wasted in small roles in films like Trainwreck and Office Christmas Party. She's a dynamo here whether it's in scenes of physical comedy or a standout sequence where she has to pretend to be someone else.
The three leads are so strong that one wishes Netflix had granted them a whole series to live in, their everyday lives worthy of a deeper dive. Ibiza is a fun, far-fetched frippery but I'd rather see what happened to them if they'd stayed at home.
Ibiza is available on Netflix from 25 May