Barbie (2023)
Barbie (2023)

Genre: Comedy and Fantasy Running Time: 1 hr. 54 min.

Release Date: July 21st, 2023 MPAA Rating: PG-13

Director: Greta Gerwig Actors: Margot Robbie, Ryan Gosling, Will Ferrell, Helen Mirren, Michael Cera, Kate McKinnon, America Ferrera, Ariana Greenblatt, Simu Liu

 


 

I

n the beginning, there were only dolls of babies. But then came Barbie, a doll of an adult woman who would end up righting all the wrongs in the world to create a wondrous paradise. At least, in Barbieland. Cheerful mornings for Stereotypical Barbie (Margot Robbie) begin with pleasant greetings for her fellow Barbies (Emma Mackey, Issa Rae, Alexandra Shipp, Nicola Coughlan, Sharon Rooney, Hari Nef, and more) that segue to sunny beach parties that in turn give way to flashy dance extravaganzas with bespoke musical numbers at night. But suddenly her normally joyous routines become stricken with burnt toast, expired milk, flat feet, and a worrying sense of impending doom. Desperate to repair her malfunctioning mind and body, Barbie visits the sagely “Weird Barbie” (Kate McKinnon), who informs her that a rift has formed between Barbieland and the real world. When Barbie and her loyal Ken (Ryan Gosling) head to Los Angeles to locate the source of the disturbance, they discover a place unlike anything they could have imagined – one that will force them to reflect on their impact and influence on each other and everyone around them.

With its opening sequence nodding to “2001: A Space Odyssey,” it’s evident that “Barbie” is going to be whimsically tongue-in-cheek. This is never more apparent than when the toy, depicted as a human, despite still being an inanimate object being played with by a child (this “Toy Story”-like notion might have worked better if animated), repeats its idyllic life over and over, in which women hold all the positions of power – and their governance has surely led to equal rights and happiness for all. There’s no conflict in this utopia, because what youth would introduce sociopolitical predicaments and existential crises for their fashion-focused playthings? “It’s perfectly perfect!”

It’s cartoonish, but certainly not for children, which is something of a conundrum. Parents may want to take their little girls to see a movie based on the popular Mattel property, but this isn’t for kids at all (reminiscent of “Lightyear,” which basically redefined a known persona as something else entirely, much to the chagrin of excited fans). With double entendres, bolder sex jokes, and Ken remaining the target of emasculating gags, not much of “Barbie” is designed for the young. Like so many films hoping to capitalize on nostalgia, this one is ultimately aimed at adults who grew up with fond memories of a specific franchise, and are willing to laugh and cry at significant allusions. Interestingly, this makes the result far more palatable for a wider audience; older crowds in general can appreciate the modest lewdness, regardless of their knowledge of a pregnant Barbie, a Barbie in a wheelchair, the various clothes and accessories, or the outrageously-conceived Sugar Daddy Ken. “I’d like to see what kind of nude blob he’s packin’.”

As it continues with a premise aimed markedly at adults, a series of sequences featuring comical singing, dancing, and beach-going pops up, while an aversion to cellulite becomes the greatest of all woes. Pop culture references and riffs help to incessantly poke fun at itself, generating a self-aware sense of humor that maintains an aloof strangeness; unlike in the similarly patterned “Enchanted,” the merger of fantasy and reality here provides uncomfortable revelations about toxic masculinity, consumerism, a warped sense of body image due to unachievable dimensions, self-esteem issues, objectification, and identity crises, among other serious subjects. Plenty of it is wacky, but commentary on male-dominated industries and careers (and related power imbalances) are rife and dourly eye-opening. “Why didn’t Barbie tell me about patriarchy?”

In the end, perhaps the comical moral is that girls ought to give their Ken dolls a bit more attention – though that wouldn’t prepare them for the paradoxical nature of womanhood, in which they’re expected to be contrasting extremes in everything from relationships to professions. Life is tough and unfair for women when men have orchestrated so many systemic societal structures against them. Nevertheless, it isn’t all a dismal affair, as the Barbie realm sticks to a periodically incoherent, goofily airy vibe, which the characters tell the viewers is just how Mattel has crafted it to be; it’s difficult to argue about the logic when it’s supposed to be illogical. Sadly, the decision to use Will Ferrell in yet another movie that deals with the clash of a toy-based reality and fantasy (as seen in “The Lego Movie”) is detrimental, considering his entire role essentially serves to delegitimize the real world, while Barbie’s Pinocchio-like desire to be a real human is thoroughly unnecessary (contributing to a punchline-dominant conclusion, but one with flimsy resoluteness), and Ken’s outcome is a comparable afterthought (a curious dismissal after such a prominent, antagonistic purpose). The comedy is regularly effective, but the overarching storyline leaves much to be desired. “Barbie doesn’t get embarrassed.”

– The Massie Twins

  • 5/10