3 stars (out of 4)
O Barbie marketing campaign deserves praise. margot robbie established herself as a living doll on multiple red carpets – love that Barbie-reminiscent outfit overnight! – while Ryan Gosling exuded the perfect amount of Ken-ergy. Bravo everyone.
Now the joke is over. And the answer to the big question is yes, life in plastic… it’s fantastic. Or, without the benefit of paraphrasing a new song from 1997: The Barbie The film is a delightful, highly stylized, and super captivating crowd-pleaser. See it once to marvel at the incredible performances and impeccable fashion and production design; picking it up again just to prove to himself that the whole thing wasn’t a neon-hued fever dream.
On the candy-coated surface, the long-awaited comedy chronicles the adventures of the famous fashion doll (Robbie), known here as “Stereotypical Barbie”. In Barbieland – where pink is not so much a color as a lifestyle choice – she wakes up with a smile and a cheerful attitude to match. She and her Barbie counterparts, played by people like Issa Rae, Neph Day It is Emma Mackey, Supreme Realm. They are Nobel Prize winners, political leaders, Supreme Court Justices and more.
After the sun goes down, they party with choreographed dance moves. All that beachy Ken (Gosling) and his cronies (Simu Liu, Kingsley Ben-Adir, Dear friend) can do is passively claim your attention.
Then, one morning, the stereotypical Barbie feels bad. Her milk is sour; her perfectly arched feet lie flat. She even imagines thoughts of death. The horror! So wise strange Barbie (Kate McKinnon) explains, there was a break in the Barbie continuum. She must travel to “the real world” (i.e. Century City, California) and help the sad little girl who plays with her. Only then will happiness return on both spectrums. Ken hops in the convertible and they are off on the big journey. It turns out to be a bumpy ride.
This narrative might sound as familiar as a gift-wrapped Barbie Dreamhouse in December. But Barbie is now co-scripted and directed by Greta Gerwig (Lady Bird, Little Women), a feminist author who frequently brings postmodern sensibilities to her work. This time, she loaded her film with innovative and subversive twists.
It’s not enough to get laughs just by watching the bright and happy Barbie and Ken stand out among the cynical Angelinos. They each have an epiphany from the start: outside their bubble, alpha males are in charge and women are subject to endless scrutiny. In a cut scene, a teenage girl (Ariana Greenblatt) discusses with Barbie about her role in the search for unattainable standards of beauty. Not even a frantic trip back to Barbieland can restore order.
It’s no fun spoiling the best Barbie surprises. There’s a real joy in discovering all the imaginative details, from the fake plastic waves on the beach to the pop music choices. As for Robbie and Gosling? They’re so oddly cast that they might as well be a special effect unto themselves. Believe the hype about Gosling: the actor of all games has never been so loose on screen. (Honestly, he sang and danced with such abandon in The New Mickey Mouse Club Not only is he hilarious, he brings a humanity to show why Ken should be considered more than a Barbie doll.
Gerwig has a lot to say about the importance of acknowledging Barbie’s imperfections, so perhaps it’s fitting that her film has its flaws. When the power structure in Barbieland becomes distorted, the Barbies unite not in action but in speech. Many speeches. Many speeches. We know, we know – women have it hard! They need to be independent! All the talk of patriarchy and autonomy becomes numbing after a while and is sure to go over the heads of girls (and boys) playing with a Barbie doll right now.
To go a step further with high heels: Barbie is marketed directly to anyone who owned a Barbie Rollerblade in the past. That means you, Gen Xers, and older Millennials. Nobody else would appreciate all that Day-Glo, let alone the Matchbox Twenty reference.
This has been a disappointing summer movie season on so many levels. what a relief that Barbie it’s a wonderful, whimsical effort delivered in such a colorful package. Just don’t box it.
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Barbie opens in theaters on Friday, July 21.