Barbie - Movie Review

Bring on the Pink
Barbie - logo WB
Barbie - logo WB(Warner Bros.)
Published: Jul. 25, 2023 at 11:41 AM EDT
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Barbie has landed and she is smarter and more complex than she has ever been given credit for. The film, directed by three-time Oscar nominee Greta Gerwig from a screenplay she co-wrote with her Oscar nominated husband, Noah Baumbach is a savvy story inspired by one of the most successful toys of all time: Barbie dolls from Mattel.

A prologue ala 2001 a Space Odyssey and narrated by Helen Mirren sets the tone and offers the dilemma of dolls before Barbie which were mostly babies, and the only role a little girl could play was that of mother. Mirren quips, ask your mother how much fun that was.

Awash in pink, the magnificent set design by six-time Oscar nominee Sarah Greenwood is a brilliant fusion of color and fantasy; Barbieland is where Barbie (the perfectly cast Margot Robbie) has her dream house, her dream car, her perfect wardrobe, and her perfect friends (also called Barbies). Barbie values her independence and perky carefree life and has little interest in studly but vapid Ken; brilliantly played by Ryan Gosling. Although polite to Ken, she doesn’t want romance or to be the object of any man’s gaze. Understandably this exacerbates ken’s insecurities as he swoons for her, and his moves have little sway.

Into every perfect life imperfection must creep, and when Barbie wakes up with (flat feet) – GASP--and random thoughts of death, it sends her into an existential crisis and journey of self-discovery.  Her inner journey parallels the physical journey as she travels to real life, with the advice of Weird Barbie (Kate McKinnon) with Ken stowing away in the backseat. When Barbie discovers Ken, she tries to send him home, but he pleads to stay, so she lets him come along. Real Life is modern day Los Angeles and the two dolls end up on Venice beach, with it’s vivid colors, energy and the ocean nearby doesn’t feel and look much different than Barbieland. However, it doesn’t take long to discover that it is drastically different.

At Mattel headquarters (referred to the Mother Ship) Ken begins to learn that in real life men run everything, not the women as is the case in Barbieland. This quickly turns him into a comic macho jerk who wants to take his knowledge back to Barbieland and start a revolution. The President of Mattel, played by Will Farrell wants to put Barbie back in her box and send her back to Barbieland, fearful that Barbie in the real world will cause confusion and chaos.  But Barbie puts her high heeled (flat) foot down and bursts out, hoping to find answers to her identity and purpose amid a whirlwind adventure in the real world.

Soon she hooks up with single hard-working mother, Gloria (Emmy award winner America Ferrera) and her daughter Sasha (Ariana Greenblatt), who cannot believe that bright pink clad ebullient Barbie is for real. These three eventually make their way back to Barbieland to confront the new patriarchal society that is now in place by a coup of the Kens. All the Barbies who were formerly independent career women including the President of the United States now only care about taking care of the Kens as subservient girlfriends.

At the core of the film is a story of identity. Who is Barbie? Who is she expected to be? What are women expected to be? What roles do men and women play in society? The centerpiece of this quandary is a delicious monologue delivered by America Ferrera. This and the monologue from Bobby in last year’s Bros make a great case to bring back the rare cinematic monologue.

Barbie is smart, so much smarter than I expected and so much smarter than most Hollywood big budget films being made now. It is also very funny, my favorite bit is “depressed” Barbie, an idea for a new doll release that reflects the real feelings Barbie is struggling against. Barbie is full of great performances, especially Ryan Gosling, who’s clueless Ken is on a journey of self-discovery as well – he sings a solo and is incredibly captivating.  Margot Robbie, who exudes charisma and vulnerability, is the best casting idea since Vivien Leigh in Gone with the Wind.

This movie is such a delightful surprise, full of substance and silliness. Its big box office is a respite from the gloom that theatrically released movies have been facing. Here’s hoping Barbie is a positive portent of things to come.