Saturday, July 22

Barbie Review


Dir: Greta Gerwig

Starring: Margot Robbie, Ryan Gosling, America Ferrera, Kate McKinnon, Issa Rae, Simu Lui, Michael Cera, Will Ferrell, and Ariana Greenblatt

1h 54m

The introduction for Greta Gerwig's vibrant live-action film "Barbie" features a film homage from one of the greatest science fiction films ever. It's the most unlikely of openings for the pretty-in-pink Mattel toy icon but, surprisingly, suits the silly yet sincere effort that creatively brings to life a witty and subversive story of changing times and shifting cultures. Director Greta Gerwig demonstrates a keen command of style and satire throughout the film, crafting a summer blockbuster that asks all the questions both admirers and naysayers of the most famous doll want answers for.  

Barbie Land is a world inhabited by the Barbie's being played with by humans. And, in Barbie Land, everything is perfect. The weather is always beach-appropriate. Dream houses are perfectly curated. And the fashion is runway approved. On top of everything, society functions effectively and peacefully with various influential Barbie's throughout history playing critical roles in every aspect. One Barbie (Margot Robbie) lives harmoniously with daily hangouts at the beach, nightly highly choreographed dance parties, and constant admiration from the Ken's, specifically one Ken (Ryan Gosling) who is determined to win Barbie's appreciation.

One morning, after having a distressing thought the night before, Barbie wakes up, and things are different. Her shower isn't refreshing. She falls off her house. And she quickly realizes that her heels are touching the ground! After meeting with Weird Barbie (Kate McKinnon), who is always in the splits and has permanent marker lines on her face, she journeys to the real world to find her owner and return things to normal in Barbie Land. 

Greta Gerwig understands that crafting a storytelling segue to connect Barbie meaningfully to the real world is the hardest part. Like other toy crossover films, "G.I. Joe" and "Transformers" come to mind; creating a meaningful story with engaging characters is always the most challenging aspect and often makes or breaks a film's success. Greta Gerwig and co-writer Noah Baumbach ingeniously bring Barbie to visually stunning life with a story centered on female empowerment, historical changes influencing gender roles, and the evolution of a cultural icon. The film does this all with a heavy dose of satirical humor and genuine sincerity for the representation of Barbie in the lives of young children. These topics are played with abundant fun through memorable musical setups, amusing dance choreography, and wonderfully constructed designs that feel transported into the Barbie Dream House. Gerwig curates Barbie Land with fascinating designs that are equally silly but inventive. 

Margot Robbie is sublime as the lead Barbie. The slow transition of the character, which starts as blissfully ignorant and morphs into self-aware confidence, is an excellent composition for Barbie's realization that the real world is cruel towards women and that the many identities women must embody are unfairly complicated. Robbie perfectly embodies the emotional arc. 

The supporting cast is also terrific throughout the film. Ryan Gosling hilariously portrays Ken as a hopelessly devoted heartthrob who arrives in the real world, learns about patriarchy, and returns to Barbie Land to make it his "Kendom." Gosling is having so much fun in this role. Kate McKinnon portrays Weird Barbie with perfect oddball qualities, Michael Cera is deadpan funny as Ken's forgotten buddy Allan, and America Ferrera grounds the comedy with a tender portrayal of a mom trying to reconnect with her daughter and manage the many facets of the world women must traverse.

The film moves with ease, maintaining a level of undeniably charming fun. As Gerwig begins to explore more in-depth what Barbie means in the cultural landscape, whether the representations are good or bad for young girls, the narrative shifts with an abundance of equally thought-provoking and extremely confounding ideas. While moving through these narrative discussions and on a path towards the eventual solution for Barbie's conundrum of new challenges and emotions in the real world, the film balances ideas that struggle to find a clear direction for the character. The answer to the question of Barbie's good or bad representation is ultimately positive but not without proposed complications. 

"Barbie's" third act soars with ideas, moving towards a finale that struggles to find a good place to end. Still, the film finds a way to conclude with a pitch-perfect punchline. Greta Gerwig found a way to make a Barbie movie that surprisingly honors the legacy of the toy doll while also providing heartfelt and humorous meta-commentary concerning the negative and positive representations found throughout shifting cultural times. "Barbie" is a journey of self-discovery at its core, one that, in the expert care of Greta Gerwig, proves to be a joyous display of female strength and solidarity.

Monte's Rating 

3.50 out of 5.00  

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