BARBIE REVIEW SCORE
Greta Gerwig pulled off a miracle with Barbie, somehow writing (alongside her partner, Noah Baumbach) and directing a film that is respectful of the doll’s history while also tearing it down at the same time. Studios have tried to make a feature film about the world’s most famous toy for decades, and part of the problem has been how to capture the wide range of what Barbie represents: Is she a feminist icon or an early source of unrealistic beauty standards? In Gerwig’s blockbuster film, the answer is of course, she’s both.
Barbie is subversive, political, emotional, and the funniest movie of the summer.
Margot Robbie plays “Stereotypical Barbie,” described as “the Barbie you think of when you hear the name Barbie,” surrounded by countless other Barbies, ranging from Doctor Barbie to President Barbie, and an entire Supreme Court of Barbie.
It’s a very strange opening sequence, but it’s also hysterical with self-aware lyrics that reflect Barbie’s state of mind at the time, from upbeat and happy lyrics to upbeat and depressing lyrics. Every star (and there are a lot of them) playing a Barbie or Ken does a fantastic job moving, acting, and sounding like a doll playing at being human.
The bizarre and surreal Barbieland starts the constant barrage of jokes, both subtle and over-the-top, at the expense of Barbie, her legacy, and Mattel. For every joke about Barbie’s background, complete with an amazing gag about her pregnant friend Midge (Emerald Fennell), there’s a joke about sexism in our own society.
While adults will find plenty to laugh about, most of the jokes will go over the head of any children in the audience, and since it is a PG-13 movie (there’s a censored f-bomb dropped towards the end that is as perfectly timed as the one in X-Men: First Class), parents should think twice before taking kids under 12 to the theater.
Everyone else will love seeing Margot Robbie’s Barbie transform from doll-like movements and expressions to becoming more and more human, while Ryan Gosling’s Ken becomes a parody of the worst men’s rights influencers found on social media.
The pair, upon seeing the real world for the first time, take two drastically different paths, with Ken discovering the patriarchy and Barbie getting in touch with humanity. Yes, Barbie gets political by skewering modern culture, but much like children playing with dolls, it stays surface level with no subtlety to it.
When the audience first sees the Mattel boardroom, overseen by Will Ferrell as the CEO, it’s entirely populated by men (though Ferrell is wearing a pink tie and shirt), but even by this point which comes 30 minutes into the film, the moral of the film has already been blunted. But the genius of Gerta Gerwig is that just when you start rolling your eyes and think you know what’s going to happen, she zigs instead of zags.
Margot Robbie plays Barbie as a doll slowly becoming more human as the film goes on with subtle acting changes, while Ryan Gosling as Ken chews the scenery in a way not seen since Alan Rickman in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves.
The final third of the film contains surprises and moments that are best experienced live, so no spoilers here, but there’s an unexpected Oscar that Barbie is likely to win as a result, and it’s one of the highlights of the entire journey.
A constant source of amusement during Barbie is keeping track of all the different Barbies and Kens, most of which are famous celebrities, from MCU stars Simu Liu, Kingsley Ben-Adir, Alexandra Shipp and Issa Rae, future Doctor Who star Nacti Gatwa, pop star Dua Lipa, WWE superstar John Cena, soap star Scott Evans, and Saturday Night Live alum Kate McKinnon.
Michael Cera, as Ken’s friend Allan, steals every scene he’s in, and America Ferrera turns out to be the heart of the film, while the legendary Rhea Perlman is perfectly used in a cameo.
Despite the vast supporting cast, Barbie lives and dies with Margot Robbie’s Barbie and Ryan Gosling’s Ken, each star brings their all to the wild role of a doll come to life. Gosling, in particular, looking like he’s having the time of his life on-screen. While Robbie’s subtle acting of the increasingly life-like Barbie propels the narrative, Gosling’s chewing of the scenery is up there with Alan Rickamn’s infamous performance in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves.
Barbie isn’t as smart as Greta Gerwig’s previous film, Ladybird, but it’s amazing that a film bankrolled by Mattel about a well-established franchise is as deep and witty as it is. It’s hard for the film’s message to hit as hard as it should because of the constant reminders that this is a corporate product, ultimately designed to sell toys, but the entire cast and crew deserve credit for trying something this bold, daring, and subversive.
Barbie hammers its message about our society so hard, it’s easy to sit back and roll your eyes, but just when you think you know where it’s going, it goes somewhere else entirely.
From its steadfast refusal to adhere to a cookie-cutter narrative to playing with set design, switching tones at the speed of light, and including meta-commentary that acknowledges Margot Robbie’s physical resemblance to the eponymous hero, Barbie is going to be a cult classic, and we’ll likely never see a movie like it for years.
And as with the best cult classic films, Barbie should be seen in the largest group possible, cackling at the jabs aimed at corporations, applauding with the third-act inspiring speech, and gasping in shock at the boundary-breaking last line.