“There were some truths I wasn’t ready to hear.”
“I can’t believe Barbie gave me an existential crisis.”
These are things my female friends said to me after our screening of Barbie.
This review won’t be an intricate analysis of how Barbie as a concept has had a monumental impact on society’s expectations of women as well as those that women have of themselves. Greta Gerwig has already done that in the movie. In fact, it’s fair to say we were probably already expecting this from the Barbie movie – it’s directed by Gerwig after all.
What really surprised me about Barbie was just how successfully it was able to achieve what it set out to do. This movie has something to say and it says it in the most fearless, funny and entertaining way possible.
Things begin in Barbieland, a delightful realm of colour and joy where everyone is having the best day ever all the time. Margot Robbie’s Barbie is the stereotypical model of the doll, making her a local favourite, particularly in the eyes of one of the many Kens played by Ryan Gosling. But in this world, everyone is Barbie and Barbie can do anything. Except think about death – don’t do that.
Suddenly, the harsh realities of the human world and the whimsical nature of Barbieland are starting to blur, and Barbie needs to find out why.
From the beginning, Barbie plays fast and loose with the rules of its world, instead choosing to lean into the weird with explicit dialogue and exaggerated characters. Sometimes this balance tips too far into camp. You’ll have a better time if you don’t think too hard about it and instead sit back and enjoy the ride.
And what a ride it is. Barbie had me crying from laughter one second and then crying from emotion the next. There are upbeat dance numbers, heartfelt monologues and self-referential jokes containing kernels of truth that hit a bit too hard.
There are no bad performances. Every actor commits to their role wholeheartedly. Even Helen Mirren’s short but sweet appearance as the narrator is a delight.
Robbie anchors the entire film with a multifaceted performance, essentially managing to capture the essence of an ideal in her Barbie, and its eventual transition into reality. Equally, there’s no doubt that Ryan Gosling was born to play Ken, who is a scene stealer if ever there was one.
The sets and costumes are vibrant with colour and impeccable in design. The soundtrack is filled with pop songs from some of our finest female artists. There’s a reason Barbiecore has been on everyone’s minds since that first teaser was released, and the film delivers more of that aesthetic in spades.
Most impressively is the fact that Barbie is able to juggle all these elements simultaneously. It’s held together by a strong directorial vision and manages to craft something that deftly portrays not only the concept of Barbie as a toy but her monumental impact on generations of women.
Maybe you’ll leave this film with a smile. Maybe you’ll leave it with an existential crisis. But regardless of whether you’ve ever picked up a Barbie doll or not, this film stands to remind you that it sees you and it understands.
Barbie Review: The verdict
Pros: The story, the world, the performances, the music, the sets, the makeup, the hair, the costumes, the props, the jokes, the cars, the themes, the use of three Sex Education actors, the Ken song, the self-referential depiction of Mattel, the unpacking of deep societal stigmas that will keep me up at night. Is that everything?
Cons: Significant character arcs are sometimes traded in order to push the themes. Also, sometimes it’s a little bit too camp.
Watch if you liked: Little Women, The LEGO Movie, Legally Blonde, Wonder Woman
Barbie is in cinemas from July 20.
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