Barbie Movie review: She’s everything, and so is Ken
Barbie is Greta Gerwig’s newest movie, and arguably her magnum opus, being just as imaginative and thoughtful as a young girl playing with dolls.
Wrapped in plastic, she’s fantastic, and her movie always seemed like it was going to be fantastic as well. Barbie, the upcoming film by Greta Gerwig, is certainly one of the most highly anticipated movies of the year.
Starring Margot Robbie and Ryan Gosling, the film follows the titular doll as she embarks on a journey to the real world, exploring the Mattel company and the concept of girlhood along the way. Ken is also there.
There has been so much hype surrounding this movie, to the extent that it almost became a point of concern – would Barbie live up to expectations? Well, Barbie isn’t necessarily a film for everyone, but one thing’s for certain: this Barbie loved it. Let’s get into this Barbie review, and don’t worry, we’ll avoid any major Barbie spoilers!
This world is plastic – and it’s fantastic
Let’s talk about the technical aspects of the film first, as the world Gerwig creates slaps you across the face with grin-inducing girlishness. The level of detail is incredible, with bright sets, fun costumes, and surreal visuals.
The soundtrack, which has arguably faced similar levels of hype, is very involved in this movie – and we don’t just mean the incredible “I’m Just Ken” sequence. The artists often place themselves into the story in both hilarious and tear-inducing ways. This kind of music bombardment may be grating to some, but similarly to Helen Mirren’s sardonic narrator, it works in creating the self-aware tone that Gerwig seemingly strives for.
Not only does Gerwig recognize and subvert how dolls are played with – they float to places rather than walk, since dolls are generally just picked up and put down – the sets and characters are all clever callbacks to Barbies of old. Though sorry Zoomers, there’s no mention of any of the animated early 2000s Barbie movies here.
Comedic in its contradictions
The constant onslaught of Mattel product easter eggs thankfully isn’t as exhausting as the now overdone MCU cameo, but it gets across the sheer scale of the Barbie franchise. Simultaneously, the movie doesn’t shy away from the corporate side of the doll’s influence, addressing valid concerns over the materialism and exploitation that lurks behind the Mattel company.
You could argue that this makes the film hypocritical, but it never feels that way, more like it’s humorously representing our own contradictory world. Barbie herself is addressed as contradictory; as a product and piece of iconography, she has failed us just as often as she has inspired us. Though the movie doesn’t go into these failures as much as one might like, preferring to keep Barbie likeable and the tone fun.
While not aiming for high comedy, Barbie is plenty funny. Movies for adults featuring childish characters often tend to be crass; they rely on the sheer shock value of your childhood icons doing grown-up things. In Barbie, there are some suggestive jokes here and there, but your childhood toys saying dirty things is hardly the hook of this film’s humor – a running joke about horses surprisingly got the biggest laugh.
It’s impossible to mention comedy without mentioning Ryan Gosling’s performance as Ken. A male character being the standout of Barbie could be seen as a problem, but it’s hard to deny Gosling’s delightful charisma. Satirizing the frivolities of masculinity while also giving genuine heart and catharsis – if you’re wanting a more spoilery explanation of his character, click here to see how a theory of ours was correct – the Kens as a whole prove that Barbie is for every gender.
Barbie isn’t perfect, and neither is the movie
Now, since this is a large ensemble cast, it can cause some scene meandering, and not every character gets to shine. The cast works well with each other, with group blocking and dance numbers being visually striking, but the Barbies and Kens can often blur together. Especially since everyone is giving a similar sort of stilted performance. This style of acting is obviously intentional, but it prevents a standout side performance – though Michael Cera as Allan does come the closest.
The humans, namely America Ferrera and Ariana Greenblatt’s characters, are notable victims of this battle for narrative space. They’re supposed to represent the complexities of the real world, but their internal and external conflicts aren’t given nearly enough development for that, and Ferrera is often reduced to rambling out buzzwords for the development of other characters.
This reliance on buzzwords – the movie uses the word patriarchy a lot – does limit and date Barbie’s exploration of gender. The representation of girlhood and all of its struggles is beautiful, but rather simplified. This was always going to be the case; representing the concept of everyone’s girlhood through a singular woman – that woman being Margot Robbie, who’s character is literally called “Stereotypical Barbie” – is an impossible task. But while girlhood is not perfectly represented, can’t the same faults be said for girlhood itself? A feeling that things could have been done better, but not quite knowing how to fix it.
This is prevalent in the movie’s ending. The upcoming resolution is obvious – the entire cast even groups together for the penultimate scene, like the end of a high school play, or the end of a children’s cartoon, for very young children. But even foresight cannot save you from feeling what this movie wants you to feel. Yes, the Barbie movie may make you cry, and Robbie excels at giving this plastic doll all the heart and pain of a regular human woman.
Barbie manages to embrace every cheesy and cliché aspect of its plot and makes it work. Gerwig has threaded the needle of embracing comforting childlike simiplicty, while adding a biblical amount of subtext.
Barbie review score: 5/5
Barbie is an enigma of a movie. It is a children’s film made for adults, done in a thoughtful and loving way. It’s comforting, but never pandering. Like finding one of your old dolls in a drawer at your parent’s house, Barbie manages to take a stereotypical object we’re all familiar with, and make it personally existential.
So even with its faults, Barbie will have you feeling exactly as you did as a child, while also embracing the adult that you’ve become. And isn’t that a feeling we’re all chasing?
The Barbie movie is in cinemas worldwide now. Check out our other coverage below:
- Barbie ending explained: Does Barbie become human?
- Best Easter eggs in the Barbie movie
- Barbie 2: Everything we know so far
- Does Barbie have a post-credits scene?
- Barbie reviews: First reactions praise “cinematic triumph”
- Is the new Barbie movie for kids?
- Barbie has a Snyder Cut joke and fans are already angry
- Barbie movie soundtrack: All songs, artists, & more
- Barbie banned in Vietnam over infamous “nine dash line”
- The 33 movies that inspired Barbie
- Barbie movie cast: All actors and characters