Ibiza, produced by Will Ferrell and Adam McKay, and now streaming on Netflix, is about EDM, in one way, and of EDM, in another. It stars Gillian Jacobs as Harper, a New York public relations person who, during a work-cum-girls trip to Barcelona, falls in love with a DJ, and pursues him to the party island of Ibiza. In so doing, it strips away the excesses of characterization and plot; not dissimilar to the way the best EDM hooks and drops induce adrenaline and head-nodding, the movie shoots glee and laughter and heart-swooning entertainment directly into your veins. Under the direction of Alex Richanbach, it operates on that ahistorical, anything-goes vacation logic, where nothing seems to matter before the trip or after, and the people you meet during make a disproportionate impression: I just met you, but it feels like I’ve known you forever.
Needless to say, this is a perfect summer rom-com—empty calories done just right, and unabashedly. I can hardly recall a movie that streamlines its exposition so effectively, and jumpstarts its plot so quickly. The opening credits establish Harper, on a subway to work, as being somewhat disgruntled and fed up with it all; all we need to know is that maybe she needs to get away from it all. A quick montage at her cubicle reveals her as some sort of sales person for a PR firm. Then she’s called into her boss’s office, where she learns—from a manically offbeat Michaela Watkins—she’s being sent to Barcelona to close a deal. At her apartment that night, she’s easily persuaded by her two friends—Leah (Phoebe Robinson) and Nikki (Vanessa Bayer)—to turn the work trip into a mini girls vacation. The three ladies arrive in Barcelona shortly thereafter. We’re not even eight minutes into the movie yet.
At this point, several questions may nag the inquisitive viewer: why are these three people friends? How did they meet? Do they live together? At what critical juncture in their lives are they? Why this trip? Why now?
Rest assured, none of these questions will be answered, not really. Leah is a “freelancer”—though in what industry, it’s not clear. Nikki is a dentist. Leah is the more free-spirited of the two, Nikki the more square; Harper’s personality lies somewhere in the middle. I would assume they’re all friends from college, but who knows—their collective past is never mentioned. It’s simply understood that they’re “best friends.” Most vacation movies, like last year’s surprise hit, Girls Trip, require a character-level impetus for said vacation: they’re old college friends who’ve kind of lost touch, and maybe they aren’t as close as they thought they were! Or maybe they are! The bottom line is: eventually there’s some kind of breakthrough. Either the vacationers grow closer or they don’t. Regardless, they learn something about themselves along the way. Yay.
Ibiza could give two shits about such concerns. And why should it? Why strive to deliver a point if it’s just going to be hackneyed and trite, anyway? Richanbach doesn’t bother encumbering his film with sentimentalized conflicts and cheap character development—he just wants you to laugh and enjoy the ride. And the movie is better for it.
It helps that he’s working with a sharp script from Lauryn Kahn, and a trio of actresses who know how to make the most of it. There are a few laugh-out-loud scenes here, involving a hotel room covered in jizz, an Adderrall-induced treadmill soliloquy and a botched, hungover business meeting. Integral to all of them is Vanessa Bayer, the SNL star who has, in a series of supporting roles, proven herself an equal of her much more celebrated castmate, Kate McKinnon. She does for Ibiza what Tiffany Haddish does for Girls Trip, but with awkward charm instead of all-out bombast. Her expressions themselves, even as she’s just listening to someone else talk, are enough to steal a scene; her precise delivery—self-conscious, sideways, solicitous—is an outstanding feat of acting.
The love affair at the center, however unfeasible, also manages to work. The cute-meet between Harper and the DJ of her dreams, Leo West (a refreshingly neurotic Richard Madden), is legitimately cute—he picks her out of the crowd because she has a dick drawn in glow-in-the-dark ink on her face. The night they spend together is jubilant, sexy and slightly romantic. And who cares if we have no idea who Harper or Leo really are? They’re both good hangs, and they seem like they’re really in love. Their chemistry smooths over the dearth of characterization.
Coming in at a quick 90 minutes, Ibiza ultimately dispenses with a classic rom-com beat: the valley before the final peak, when our two paramours separate due to an unforeseeable bump in the road. Rather than stop at his, Richanbach just kind of drives over it. Despite the high highs of Ibiza—there is a decent amount of glorified ecstasy-dropping here—there’s never a come-down. It’s unmercifully a good time, all the way through, and even at the resolution, it avoids making an actual point—becoming about something. The whole thing is totally fantastical and incredibly shallow, but it’s vacation, it’s Ibiza, it’s Ibiza—anything can happen, right?