People tell each other “no” a lot in Ibiza. It’s a kind of chin-tucked-down, “no, honey” kind of faux-aghast deadpan damper, used when a friend is doing something that perhaps does not flatter them, or using a turn of phrase that, to borrow a similar ready-made comic affectation, is “not a thing.” It’s a strangely repetitive tic for a unit of entertainment ostensibly about Yes-and-ing and YOLO-ing your way through Spain, not that Ibiza is apparently interested at all in anything resembling a comedic, emotional, or thematic through line. I’m not even fully confident in calling it a movie.
Ibiza feels like the next logical step in the evolution of the Netflix Original Movie, a film that one can’t imagine possibly being written to be exhibited on any other platform. Up until this point, I’ve hesitated to wade into any semantic arguments about whether or not a 90-minute-ish piece of filmed entertainment is a “movie” or not, Ibiza has me suddenly questioning all of it. With all the inconsequential lightness of a binged sitcom episode but none of the character investment, watching director Alex Richanbach and writer Lauryn Kahn’s girls’ trip comedy feels more like watching a Snapchat story than a movie, a series of jokes and “you had to be there” incidents that fail to ever actually make you feel as if you are, in fact, there.
We know next to nothing about friends Harper, Leah, and Nikki (Gillian Jacobs, Phoebe Robinson, and Vanessa Bayer, respectively) by the time they jet off to Barcelona five minutes into the movie. Harper works in PR and is off to Spain to close on an account with a sangria brand, she has a horrible boss (Michaela Watkins), but otherwise we know nothing of how she feels about her job and her life in New York City other than that it’s tiring and the subway is crowded (she has what appears to be a very cushy Dumbo apartment, so brokeness isn’t an issue). Nikki is a dentist, Leah is a “freelancer,” they want to go to Spain too, and so off they go.
The soundtrack is wall-to-wall with “Mi Gente” and “Despacito” as well as dance-chart toppers from Calvin Harris and his ilk; for a film named after a very specific place and music culture, it’s completely devoid of a sense of place. (There’s been some light controversy over the film’s decision to shoot in Croatia instead of its Balearic namesake.) Harper and her buddies arrive in Barcelona, get stoned and go to the beach, then head to the club at the invitation of the sangria fellows, where a hot DJ played by Game of Thrones’ Richard Madden plucks Harper out of the audience like something out of a celebrity fanfic. It’s a bizarrely fantastical meet-cute, after which Harper can’t get DJ Leo out of her head, and morosely waits around at a debaucherous mansion after-party, hoping he shows up while her friends get into drug-and-sex-fueled hijinks.
Watching other people do drugs and try to sleep with DJs is not nearly as fun as actually doing so (I suspect). And with no real plot or character-driven stakes to hang onto, Ibiza falls apart as instantaneously as any morning-after brunch story. None of the trouble the characters get into seems particularly outrageous or setpiece-worthy, nor do we have any sense of what Harper is looking for in a larger sense — even enough to know if her blowing off a meeting and following her DJ to Ibiza should be seen as a victory over her shitty job or her foolishly losing her way over some celebrity dick. This remains inscrutable until the film’s final moments.
The girls run into a trio of British louts on the flight from Barcelona to Ibiza, one of them speaks in the exact kind of comedy-writer nervous-flail speak as Jacobs’s character — wait, is he who she’s supposed to end up with? But then, no, we catch a glimpse of Leo, also stammering in the style of a UCB sketch-writing teacher, leaving a neurotic voice-mail for Harper. Everyone in Ibiza, whether they’re dentists from Brooklyn or EDM-superstar/“also he’s, like, a true artist” DJs, talks like a comedian’s Twitter, which is not only annoying but completely confusing. Ibiza doesn’t have the strength of wit and character to suffice as a hangout vacation movie, and it has zero idea how to be a romantic comedy, either. It’s not a movie, it’s Netflix.