Barbie Movie Review
Barbie Movie Review Metadata
In Greta Gerwig’s Barbie (2023), life in plastic is only fantastic when the reality stays in the Real World.
Things are super neat in Barbie Land. Barbie is President (Issa Rae), and on the Supreme Court. Barbie is a doctor, lawyer, delivery driver, and Nobel Prize winner. Barbie can be anything and every day is perfect – until the day it’s not. Stereotypical Classic Barbie (Margot Robbie) has everything she wants. Great friends, fun parties, and a beautiful dream house. She even has a Ken (Ryan Gosling) and as far as he’s concerned, the sun rises and sets solely on her and his unrequited love.
One day, Barbie’s life isn’t perfect. She wakes up achy, her toast is burnt and the perfect arch in her feet is gone. She learns that her Person, the little girl who loved and once played with her, needs help. Barbie sets off on a journey to the Real World to remind her Person that life is fantastic because Barbie is fantastic. Along for the ride is Ken who is just happy to be any part of Barbie’s life. Barbie and Ken discover the Real World isn’t anything like the perfectly pastel Barbie Land, and their individual takeaways could change the course of all Barbies and Kens forever.
When the world is made of and for you, you can’t imagine any reason why it isn’t perfect for anyone else. That’s initially Barbie’s problem as she’s confident that a few encouraging words is all it will take to get her Person back on track to a perfect life. In the Real World, she finds harsh edges in a gray wash and begins to believe there’s no place for her anywhere. Ken on the other hand sees a world where he’s not regulated to the background side piece, and he wants to bring his newfound knowledge of beer, horses, and watches back to Barbie Land to start a Ken-volution.
There is a lesson in Barbie that is so wonderfully subversive, you don’t even mind you’re being lectured. It tackles feminism, consumerism, oppression, and the patriarchy. That sentence would turn off a lot of people, and it’s their loss. This is a film of stark contradictions both in its characterizations as well as its direction. The biggest thing going for it is despite all of the characters and tangent upon tangent, and as long as you remember that Barbie isn’t a deep thinker, the film is pretty breezy. That’s not to say she’s dumb, just unaware.
If there’s one thing I would have liked to have seen is that while Stereotypical Barbie may not be specifically a doctor or an astronaut, the possibility for her to be anything was there. My Barbies flew in the Millennium Falcon and spent afternoons in Castle Grayskull, and once one was buried alive in the backyard by rogue Polly Pockets. Barbie’s purpose was to take up as much real estate in as many worlds as possible. Sometimes, Purpose really is that simple.
Margot Robbie embodies the perfection of Original Recipe Barbie. Her big blue eyes and wide guileless smile never come across as vacuous or empty. This is a doll confident that every day will be as wonderful as any of the previous days. As she becomes mindful of Real World problems, her gradual acceptance that Things Kinda Suck for Everyone Who Isn’t Barbie is a beautifully written realization. Ryan Gosling is Ken, whose job is “Beach”, and lives his life waiting to be noticed by his Barbie, but not really thinking through what that means. He gathers all of the things he believes will make him important and in charge, creating a spiral of compounding crises he isn’t equipped to puzzle through on his own.
America Ferrera and Ariana Greenblatt play the mother-daughter roles of Gloria and Sasha at a relationship crossroads. Gloria is a harried mom working for a corporate machine doing the best for her daughter while her own dreams fade away. Sasha is the angsty teenager, fully aware that in a world of Barbies, she can’t measure up to the artifice. Their dynamic is one of the strongest, bringing an organic tenderness and cultural perspective that didn’t need tons of exposition to develop.
What didn’t work for me was the gray, empty Corporate Mattel, run by a boardroom of empty men in suits led by Will Farrell. Their job, other than keeping Mattel in business is keeping Barbie in Barbie Land. No real reason is given as to why and it’s a clumsy subplot that trips over its own feet. As over the top as everything else, is, none of Mattel in the Real World felt authentic. I know it was meant to be a statement on how the most empowered female doll is under the thumb of the corporate patriarchy, but every scene felt like filler in search of a sketch comedy.
Barbie is full of cameos such as John Cena, Dua Lipa, and Rhea Perlman, plus it’s narrated by Helen Mirren. Under any other circumstance, Barbie would be an overpowered and expensive vanity piece with a threadbare plot and lackluster dialog. Greta Gerwig, with a co-writing credit to Noah Baumbach, infuses real world existential crises into a cotton candy landscape. Barbie was okay not having a purpose, until she realized she didn’t have a purpose. Ken made being Barbie’s boyfriend his entire personality, and as a purpose it would never pan out. Deftly handled, each takes their quest to extremes, culminating in a wild dance-off and epic battle. Not everyone will love every part of this movie, but as a whole it’s far more entertaining than a movie about a 64-year-old fashion doll has a right to be.
At times silly, ridiculous, poignant, and cutting, Barbie’s underlying message is Life brings as much fun as you’re willing to put into it. Bring lots of fun to the theater when you see it.
Barbie (2023) is rated PG-13 for mild PG swears, objectification, stealing, car chases, a beach-off, and a wardrobe we’d all kill to own.