BARBIE

★★★★

GRETA GERWIG REMINDS US WHY BARBIE IS EVERYTHING

THEATRICAL REVIEW
By Chris Dos Santos
19th July 2023

In 1959, the world of toys changed forever. Barbie was born and baby dolls were out. There is no toy as influential as 'Barbie', and even looking at the last 2- years with highly successful brands like 'Bratz' and 'Monster High', 'Barbie' has still ruled the toy aisle. 'Barbie' has been influential in the devolvement of young girls (and it's no lie, for some of the boys too) thanks to her "You Can Be Anything" messaging. It was the first time girls were allowed to envision themselves as doctors, scientists, pilots, ballerinas - this list could on, but only they could see themselves as homeowners without being a wife, which in the 1960s and 70s as women's liberation was happening was groundbreaking, and its effect is still being felt today. 'Barbie' is not just another toy; she is a movement. In her almost 65 years on the market she has been no stranger to film and television, with 42 direct-to-video animated films being released since 2001 (yes, I watched all of them to prepare for this, and yes, there is not a single mention of anything from those films) and they now continue to be made on Netflix. She has also appeared in six different shows ranging from YouTube web series to fully-developed Netflix series. However, 2023 is the first time she has ever been given the live-action treatment.

'Barbie' (Margot Robbie, 'Birds of Prey', 'Babylon') lives in Barbie Land. A world run by women, and while Kens also live there, they are just Kens and this is a women's world. One day, things start to be not-so-perfect for 'Barbie' - she falls off her roof, begins wondering about death and has... flat feet! She is told to go visit Weird Barbie (Kate McKinnon, 'Bombshell', 2016's 'Ghostbusters') who instructs her to visit the real world to get the answers she needs to become perfect once again. Ken (Ryan Gosling, 'First Man', 'Blade Runner 2049') unexpectedly joins her and off they go. In the real world, Barbie and Ken discover really different things - Barbie begins to realise how imperfect it is for her, while Ken learns how great the real world could be for him. Barbie runs into Mattel employee Gloria (America Ferrera, 'How to Train Your Dragon' franchise, TV's 'Ugly Betty') and her daughter Sasha (Ariana Greenblatt, 'In the Heights', 'The Boss Baby: Family Business'), who help guide her to her answers.

SWITCH: 'BARBIE' TRAILER 2

Like the doll herself, 'Barbie' the film is incredibly self-aware of her as a brand. The meta level of the film is 'Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse' and 'The LEGO Movie' tied up in a pink bow. The humour of the film really is one of its defining features. While I was expecting some level of existential crisis narrative, the film really runs with it and is as much a deep look at sexism and politics. It's still a celebration of the 'Barbie' brand, but it's much more geared toward adult audiences than expected. It's still a comedy but may be deeper than many might be anticipating.

Every single cast member brings their A-Game. Robbie is giving the performance of a lifetime, throwing herself into the role and giving this character a huge emotional weight; you feel for Barbie in ways I didn't even know were possible. Gosling is giving one of the best comedic performances of the 21st century, and like Robbie, just throwing himself into Ken and his delusions, he's an absolute scene-stealer. Let the Oscar campaign start now for both of them! The supporting cast also rise to the challenge of this world. Issa Rae ('Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse', 'The Lovebirds') is totally infectious, while even small background Kens like Scott Evans ('Almost Love') and Ncuti Gatwa (Netflix's 'Sex Education') who deserve more hype are bringing their all to these roles. Delightfully Allan (Michael Cera, 'The Lego Batman Movie', TV's 'Arrested Development') gets a lot more screen time than I thought, and Cera is also giving it his all. I cannot talk enough about how much I adored this cast.

This is a celebration, a time capsule of doll history, but it's also a cinematic venture through that lens. Director Greta Gerwig takes all of the themes of 'Barbie' and packs them into this pink joyride view of the world.

'Barbie' is easily the most-hyped movie of the year, and the most marketed - and because of that, I can see some audience members being disappointed with the final product. I think a lot of us were going hoping for something more like 'The Super Mario Bros. Movie' which was heavy on the references to the game. While 'Barbie' still has that, it's much more focused on characters and story, which for me really worked. This is still a celebration, a time capsule of doll history, but it's also a cinematic venture through that lens. Director Greta Gerwig takes all of the themes of 'Barbie' and packs them into this pink joyride view of the world. It is incredibly on-brand but packaged for a modern adult audience. It both uplifts the message of the brand while critiquing it, perfectly balancing the two.

Finally, the soundtrack is one of the most anticipated in a long time, and it absolutely exceeded all the hype it's been getting. From Dua Lipa to Nicki Minaj, Ice Spice, Charli XCX and Lizzo, this is one the biggest soundtracks of all time. Every song is incredible - and, of course, has to end with the fantastic Ken song that, just wow, is one of the best musical numbers in recent years. Gosling is going for that EGOT!

'Barbie' means something different to everyone that has picked up one of her dolls. There is no way one film can encapsulate that let alone the 42 animated films that have come before it - but given it's been 60 years and this is her first live-action film, 'Barbie' is an absolute delight. I want to visit Barbie Land over and over again, from the entire cast bringing their absolute all, the fantastic set and costume design and the really rich and thoughtful script, this is the perfect pink plastic package.

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