Imagine me - a male film critic - somehow posturing myself to think that anyone would care about my review of a "Barbie" movie. To think that my take matters sort of undercuts the spirit of the entire film...women - Barbie included - do not need my stamp approval or my "thumbs up," nor does it feel appropriate. That being said, it feels very "male" of me that I would continue on giving my opinions regardless.
Understand that "Barbie" is a movie that EVERYBODY should go see, but I would like to fully acknowledge upfront that this is a movie best appreciated by women, or those that grew up with the uber-popular, iconic Mattel Barbie dolls. There are several call-backs, references and jokes aimed at the entire past line of Barbie dolls...from the pregnant Midge doll, to her younger sister Skipper whose breasts would grow if you rotated her arm, to Ken's "buddy" Allan (all of Ken's clothes fit him!). If you don't know much about Barbie, there is still fun to be had, but not nearly as much as for those in the know.
"Barbie" isn't perfect, but that's sort of the point and the modern approach to the character, isn't it?
The Barbie doll toy line was launched back in 1959, created by American businesswoman Ruth Handler, and has sold over a BILLION dolls, making it Mattel's most popular and profitable toy. It is a toy that has been celebrated as well as mocked, and has not been without its share of controversies.
"Barbie" the movie doesn't shy away from any of this, and tackles the good and the bad that has laced the character's vast history.
In the film, Barbie-Land is a pink paradise where all of the different versions of Barbie (and Ken, and Allan) live their privileged and care-free lives. There are beach parties galore, and most begin their days with a trip down the winding slides attached to most of the homes. The Barbie that we follow is Stereotypical Barbie (a perfectly cast Margot Robbie), who is slowly "awaking" and becoming self-realized for reasons unknown. Her Ken is played by Ryan Gosling, also perfectly cast, whose job is literally "beach" and who also is searching for meaning as he endlessly pursues Barbie's romantic affection.
A star-studded cast fills out the wide spectrum of Barbies that we've come to know over the years (Issa Rae, Kate McKinnon, Alexandra Shipp, Ana Cruz Kayne and Emma Mackey among them), and the variety of Kens are also hilarious ("Shang-Chi" star Simu Liu and "Peaky Blinders" stand-out Kingsley Ben-Adir leading the way). Then there's Allan (Michael Cera). Poor Allan. As Barbie sets out on a mission of self-discovery, she crosses over into the "Real World" where we meet "Mattel CEO" played by Will Ferrell...a clueless exec in charge of the all-male Mattel board in charge of the Barbie brand.
Two "Real World" humans, a mother and daughter duo (American Ferrera and Ariana Greenblatt) become the real center of the story, and act as an anchor for the mothers and daughters in the audience, both who have had to come to terms with what Barbie has represented for them growing up, and into adulthood.
Nostalgia is applied in thick layers, but this is a movie that's as forward-thinking as they come. America Ferrera's character at one point gives a scathing dialogue as to what women have had to endure in America for decades, and it's a clip that will go down in infamy. As Barbie tries to discover what life is all about, and comes to the realization that there's more to life than dream houses and Girls' Nights, the movie takes a hard look at the legacy of feminism, and the toxicity of a male-dominated world.
The real star of "Barbie" however is writer/director Greta Gerwig (who co-wrote the screenplay along with her writer/director husband, Noah Baumbach). She creates a meta-universe that ironically goes balls out...this is one of the more visually ambitious films of the year and perhaps the century. "Barbie" has a real chance at some awards-season love for its performances, namely Robbie and Gosling, as well as for Greta herself for writing/directing, but I would imagine this movie at the bare minimum is a lock for several of the technical categories: Production Design, Costumes, Hair and Make-Up, Sound design, and more.
Gerwig creates "Barbie" as a winking, absolutely bonkers comedy with boundless ambition. Maybe the most unexpected quality though is its sense of purpose. In a world where studios are mining old intellectual-properties and trying to make money hand-over-fist on nostalgia, "Barbie" stands alone. It's a movie that will make tons of money, and increase sales for Mattel's toy line exponentially. But who would have thought that a movie about a doll could be so profound, and have so much to say.
That's because Barbie has always been "more than just a doll." The toy, for many women, has left a deep impression...their first brush with what a woman "should be" in society. The "Barbie" movie honors all of that, and stands as a worthy cinematic representation of everything Barbie represents today: That women are in charge of their own destiny, that women are strong, that women are worthy...that women are imperfect and that those imperfections are what make them undeniably unique.
Greta by the way, is becoming a voice of empowerment of her generation...her directorial filmography now includes "Barbie," "Little Women" and "Lady Bird"...is there a better collection of films in the past decade that celebrate the facets of femininity?
This male critic approves of "Barbie," not that it matters, and not that this movie needs my approval. I'm just happy to join in as a willing member of the celebration, and I hope this movie moves you as well.
Genre: Adventure, Comedy, Fantasy.
Run Time: 1 hour 54 minutes.
Starring: Margot Robbie, Ryan Gosling, America Ferrera, Kingsley Ben-Adir, Michael Cera, Alexandra Shipp, Kate McKinnon, Issa Rae, Ritu Arya, Sharon Rooney, Dua Lipa, Will Ferrell.
Written and Directed by Greta Gerwig ("Little Women," "Lady Bird").
"Barbie" is in theaters on Friday, July 21st, 2023.
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