It’s arguably the movie event of the year – Greta Gerwig’s Barbie! Whether it’s the 2001: A Space Odessey inspired trailer, the amazing world-tour marketing campaign showcasing Margot Robbie in damn near every single Barbie outfit ever created, or the internet’s obsession with it’s double feature counterpart Oppenheimer (or as the experience has been dubbed, Barbenheimer), everyone and anyone who knows what a cinema is, is aware of the rollicking hype train that is this film.
After being in development limbo since 2009, and with names like Amy Schumer and Anne Hathaway attached along the way, it almost seemed as if despite the growing box office success of fellow toy-to-film-adaptions, such as the Transformers saga, no one in Hollywood could crack the story that was going to bring the iconic fashion doll to life on screen for the first time in live action. That is until the Academy Award nominated forces of Margot Robbie and Greta Gerwig (director of Lady Bird and 2019s Little Women) combined, creating a level of interest in the potential of what a Barbie film could be. But did they pull it off? For the most part, they absolutely did… but not in the way a lot of people are going to expect.
Barbie Land is an idyllic utopia. It’s pink, it’s grand, and it’s a world in which Barbie’s rule and thrive. Whether it’s Physicist Barbie (Emma Mackey, Sex Education) winning all the Nobel Prizes, or Mermaid Barbie (performing artist Dua Lipa) gracefully gliding through the cardboard cut-out ocean waves, or President Barbie (Issa Rae, Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse) leading and empowering all the Barbie’s, there is no better place in the entire universe to be a strong, independent, and driven Barbie than in Barbie Land.
But Barbie’s Barbara Millicent Roberts is the “stereotypical” Barbie (Margot Robbie, The Suicide Squad). Barbie is tall, blonde, and beautiful – a spitting image of the beloved fashion doll created by Mattel in the “real world”. Her world is perfect the way it is. Each morning Barbie awakens in her perfect Dreamhouse where the shower is always the perfect temperature, her waffles are perfectly toasted, and her Barbie convertible perfectly drives her down to the beach each day to see Ken (Ryan Gosling, Drive).
And as for the Ken’s (who aside from Gosling includes Simu Liu, Kingsley Ben-Adir, Ncuti Gatwa and Scott Evans)… well, their job is simple. When the Ken’s aren’t doing everything in their power to win the affection of the Barbie’s, they do what they know best – beach. Surfing? No. Just, beach. In fact, they love beach so much that when the Ken’s have a rift over who should be winning Barbie’s affection, they beach-off together. A whole bunch of Ken’s just beaching off. And then there is also Alan (Michael Cera, Superbad) who is, well, just Alan.
However, Barbie’s perfect life is soon challenged when an unconscious train of thought begins to emerge. Outwardly questioning in front of all the other Barbie’s and Ken’s whether they think about death or not leads Barbie down an existential rabbit hole that takes Barbie and Ken on a trip to the “real world” to find out where these new thoughts have come from. But the drastic shift in what the real world has on offer compared to Barbie Land creates a dramatic shift in both Barbie and Ken’s understandings of life as they know it.
In many ways, Barbie is unapologetic. The most noticeable element of the film is its feminist lens. The women in this film, both in Barbie Land and the “real world” are all strong, fleshed-out characters whose unique purposes and challenges allow the audience to connect with them on a much more visceral level. Specifically, Barbie herself, who’s existential crisis is entirely relatable because of Margot Robbie’s pure dedication to the role and to the story being told. As Barbie goes on her journey of self-discovery throughout the film, there is a certain level of vulnerability that Robbie lends to the character that transcends a traditional performance and feels more so like a direct punch of the film’s themes straight into the audiences’ hearts. Robbie’s take on Barbie as a character, in this film, is the anchor that keeps you invested while all the other outrageous elements come out to play.
It’s no surprise that this film will connect with young girls all over the world. Girls who will undoubtedly see themselves represented on screen through a diverse cast. But one of Barbie’s ultimate strengths is that it’s themes of purpose and self-worth are entirely universal for all audiences to either relate to themselves or sympathise with as they watch Barbie’s journey on screen. Purpose is the fundamental core of the narrative, and the film doesn’t lose site of that theme, even when it throws a lot at the screen in a relentless fashion. There is a lot happening in Barbie, whether it be visually, thematically, tonally or performances wise. At times, it can feel overwhelming, and its jam packed 2-hour runtime doesn’t always leave enough room for moments to breathe. But those core themes will stay with you long after the credits role (especially due to its highly impactful finale).
The other noticeably main way Barbie is unapologetic is showcased with how insane some of the humour is. There are a lot of fantastic jokes always going off during Barbie. The meta-narrative lends to gut-busting moments that have a strong appeal to the cinephiles who have pre-embraced the film. The humour is very much so Gerwig and co-writer Noah Baumbach’s take on a Hollywood “studio” movie. There’s some fun slapstick humour for the young ones, and plenty of witty innuendo for the adults! In saying that, Barbie is absolutely toeing the line of what it’s target demographic is, and not entirely based on the cruder humour it has on offer, but also in its more mature themes as spoken about previously.
However, the humour highlight and genuine scene-stealer for Barbie is Ryan Gosling and his unmatched “Ken-ergy” as the dumb-as-a-doorknob, but entirely loveable, Ken. Gosling’s commitment to the macho-man with a hell-of-a-lot of insecurity is unlike anything we’ve seen from him performance wise before, and every second of it is truly fantastic. His physicality, especially the variety of cartoonish facial expressions he can give over a variety of heightened emotions, mixed with perfected comedic delivery of hilarious dialogue, makes every moment Gosling is on screen an wildly entertaining time.
Gerwig’s direction is a wonderfully immersive throwback to sound stage era cinema. Movies such as The Wizard of Oz, that had beautifully painted backdrops and the bombastic costumes, have served as inspiration for Gerwig’s imagining of Barbie Land, and that heightened visual style is presented in such a vivid, colourful style that exacerbates the joyous feeling this film holds. One of Gerwig’s strengths is how she then later in the film uses the established visual aesthetics to have that same heightened feeling, but now instead of using it for joy and humour, it’s used incredibly well to hammer home the emotional stakes of the film’s climax.
Barbie is truly firing on all cylinders. The energy (or I should say, Ken-ergy) of this film is chaotic, but always enjoyable. Co-writers Greta Gerwig and Noah Baumbach have crafted an incredible script that explores themes of self-worth and purpose heavily through a feminist lens, but have those elements presented against an outrageously fun, over-the-top, laugh-a-minute, meta-narrative, pastel pink backdrop of a world that will have you laughing hysterically one moment, and tearing up the next. And the perfection in Barbie lies in the fact that the opposite tones never clash with each other, because while the humour is truly absurd (thanks to Ryan Gosling), the emotions are authentic (thanks to a brilliant Margot Robbie).
Barbie is in cinemas July 20 – courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures.
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