2018 | unrated (R equivalent for language, sex and nudity) | starring Gillian Jacobs, Phoebe Robinson, Vanessa Bayer, Michaela Watkins | directed by Alex Reichanbach | 1hr 34mins |
Studio Pitch: Another comedy about a group of female friends, travelling, partying and tripping out.
A lot of people think that a movie review is there to tell you how good a movie is and if you should see it. I don’t think that’s the case, but the first job – and the more informative work – tells you what the movie is. What else is it like, what genre mix does it contain, is it what’s been advertised, how will it look in 5 or 10 years stacked up against everything else. Case in point, the Netflix Original Ibiza looks like it’s going to be another movie about female friends, reunited for a wild trip who get into booze and drug fueled hijinks along the way. It isn’t, not quite, it has the echos of those movies, but it’s more in line with the darker genre twists that Will Farrell and Adam McKay’s Gary Sanchez Productions are pretty good at. Then we’ll get to the next level, that it isn’t even very good at what it’s trying to do.
I’m not the type of demographic that movies like Rough Night and Girls Trip are shooting for, not because I’m not a woman with a posse of friends, but because my favorite version of this type of movie is actually Bachelorette, the pitch-black Kristen Dunst, Lizzy Caplan spin on this formula. Bachelorette has all the drug fueled, gross-out, race against time comedy antics of these movies and filters it all through an undercurrent of genuinely disturbed characters. A movie where a main character’s teenage bulimia figures into the plot in a wacky way. That’s what these Gary Sanchez Productions do at their best, like Bachelorette, the masterfully insane Welcome to Me or Jody Hill’s Observe and Report they take a wacky studio premise and filter it through characters that are genuinely sad with real mental illness. I certainly got the vibe that Ibiza was attempting to do the same thing for the girl’s trip buddy comedy. It’s a slower, more melancholy film that pauses a lot to let miserable people have conversations or soak up the atmosphere and music at a Spanish EDM rave. It’s a slower, Earthier style I prefer to the wacky, cartoonish antics that studio comedies usually go for.
But directed by Alex Reichenbach, Ibiza doesn’t hit that admittedly higher mark. It’s full of disparate elements that seem randomly thrown in. Broad sex comedy (accidental sex causes the group to be chased out of a party by a knife welding wife), wacky drug jokes and race-to-make-the-flight antics are in here with more realistic moments – awkward voicemails and the group sitting on the cliff side watching the sunrise. Everyone seems to be on a different page. Gillian Jacobs is actually terrific in this, proving she can anchor a movie almost all by herself with everything else spinning in all directions. Phoebe Robinson seems to be vibing with the material as well, with no arch, but perfectly delivering the dry, understated one-liners (she gets the best one-liners in the film).
Vanessa Bayer on the other hand is way over the top. Employing the louder-is-funny method, she looks like she was shot down for the Ghostbusters remake and wants to do her shtick here. Michaela Watkins plays Jacobs’ neurotic, profane only-in-a-movie screaming boss like she’s doing a Susie Essman impression. Even weirder, the entire thrust of this movie is one that would make the social media blogs hyperventilate. It’s got a romanticism these movies usually don’t have. A chance encounter between Jacobs character and a famous EDM DJ leads to her and her friends (Robinson and Bayer) dragging across Ibiza looking for his next gig. Chasing, jeopardizing her job, for a guy. Oh ye, Gods.
That’s all well and good, but I’m asking where is the dark underbelly. The self destruction. The genre subversion. We get a pay off where Jacobs’ Harper decides to start taking risks that doesn’t feel like a turn that was ever set up. The movie starts and ends in New York, opening with Frank Sinatra’s on-the-nose “New York, New York”. This movie loves New York more than it cares about Ibiza. It ends beautifully with Sn Holo’s “Light”, a slam-bang outro that gives the movie an illusion of more substance. Reichenbach doesn’t balance all these disparate elements well, cramming them awkwardly together. At only an hour and a half it feels like over 2 and there are some odd technical miscues – a few times the music is mixed so loudly you can’t hear dialog we’re clearly supposed to. It never gets either wacky enough or dark enough, instead straddling the boring middle. It’s all a shame, because Jacobs is so solid here, I like this type of movie and I really wanted to like this one.