(4 / 5)
Barbie, Dir: Greta Gerwig. 12a, 114 mins
The summer of 2023 in cinema circles will be best remembered for the bizarre joining of the forces of Christopher Nolan’s Oppenheimer and Greta Gerwig’s take on Barbie. Both released on the same day, “Barbenheimer”, as it’s been dubbed might just save the cinema after all, this double feature proudly making millions and creating debates on both films themes.
Unsurprisingly, Barbie the film has rilled up all the wrong people and we are here for it. Some declaring it woke, anti-men, sexist, alt-right and everything in between. With some sprawling marketing, the film has cleverly trudged through the premise of making an actual Barbie film, made by the its creators Mattel. We didn’t need this back in 1990’s, The Simpsons episode ‘Lisa vs. Malibu Stacey’ perfectly captured the thoughts of many. Todd Haynes infamous Karen Carpenter film will never be released due to the use of her unlicensed music, brilliantly uses Barbie dolls to tackle the eating disorders of its leading lady. We’ve had Babrie be used and discussed as above, yet this is her first official feature. Does it work?
Greta Gerwig has made the right Barbie film for our current climate. Unafraid to poke fun at men, Mattel, misogyny and more. Her and Noah Baumbach have written a strange and genuinely funny script which at times pops as much as the tower of pink we as an audience cannot escape. The sets and costumes here are as hyper and over the top as you’d expect. Margot Robbie could only ever be perfect as this Barbie, what might be her most delightful role for some time. She is baffled as to why she after living her perfect life, is now feeling depressed and getting cellulite. Sent to the quirky Kate McKinnon as Oracle like Weird Barbie (a nod to the children who played too rough with their dolls). She tells Barbie to go out into the real world and find the child who is actually playing with her.
What follows is often sharp and so anti-men, I went along with it knowing it was in good humour. Stealing the show is Ryan Gosling as Ken, who is bound to win awards for his take on the role. The lavish musical number “I’m just Ken” is destined for an Oscar nom as well. Ryan embraces everything wrong with toxic men, feeling useless in Barbieland and then empowered by the patriarchy in our own world. It’s outrageous just how much Barbie is harrassed the moment she arrives in our realm, a groper she hits, instantly lines her up for a mugshot, with a joyous Ken.
I had a thought that a plot twist boy would be playing with this Barbie, but it turns out it’s the mother Gloria, who has started to play with Sasha, her daughter’s dolls. Some sweet and apt moments occur between Anerica Ferrera and Ariana Greenblatt, yet it’s not why we are here. The lack of conflict and a villain slows down the dynamics of the film too. It could have shaved off some ten minutes aside. Will Ferrell as the Mattel CEO, is his typical, giddy self, though him fainting on the corporate board table might just be his funniest moment in the film. An ensemble of other Barbies, Kens and other odd casting choices adds style, dirty jokes and a well needed diversity to proceedings. Michael Cera playing as Alan, Ken’s friend who had a limited release as a doll, is clever casting as he defines the nervous, other guy at the party that is Barbieland. Helen Mirren is underplayed as a matter of fact, yet catty narrator, first heard in the opening Space Odyssey parody.
The film is rife with Barbie lore, spanning decades: the dolls they would rather forget and the cult ones they are happy to wink at. Many an Easter egg is to be found here and there are some sweet scenes concering Barbie’s creator that I won’t spoil. Even if some of her rhetoric is out dated and questionable.
Also, it has to be said that this is isn’t really a children’s film (it’s a 12a), unless parents are willing to answer some big questions they might be faced with during and after a screening. The last line of the film caught me right off guard.
Barbie is out now on general release.