Principal Cast : Margot Robbie, Ryan Gosling, America Ferrera, Ariana Greenblatt, Rhea Perlman, Helen Mirren, Will Ferrell, Emerald Fennell, Issa Rae, Kate McKinnon, Alexandra Shipp, Emma Lackey, Hari Nef, Sharon Rooney, Ana Cruz Kayne, Ritu Arya, Dua Lipa, Nicola Coughlan, Sumu Liu, Kingsley Ben-Adir, Ncuti Gatwa, Scott Evans, John Cena, Mettenarrative, Asim Chaudhry, Connor Swindells, Erica Ford. Lucy Boynton, Rob Brydon, Ann Roth.
Synopsis: Barbie suffers a crisis that leads her to question her world and her existence.
Wrapped in plastic? Not this Barbie, folks. Greta Gerwig’s incredibly sweet meta-textual narrative live-action film based on the eponymous toy line, popularised in the 1960’s and a cultural mainstay for generations of young girls ever since, Barbie is a pitch-perfect dissection of feminism, patriarchy, gender stereotypes and Margot Robbie’s effortless good looks. Incredibly fun, endlessly funny and filled to the brim with detail and nuance in every frame, Barbie ain’t the cheaply animated garbage your kids probably grew up on, offering a dreamhouse load of heart and soul amid the cheeky self-referential humour and subtext.
After suddenly having depressing thoughts, a stereotypical Barbie (Margot Robbie) leaves Barbieland for the real world to find the source of her anxiety and ends up changing both. Along for the ride is a superficially narcissistic Ken (Ryan Gosling), and Mattel personal assistant Gloria (America Ferrera) and her daughter Sasha (Ariana Greenblatt).
Barbie works on multiple levels, and in so many different ways, it is going to take more than one viewing to really deep-dive into the creative genius Greta Gerwig and writing partner (and husband) Noah Baumbach have stuffed into this fourth-wall breaking, glass-ceiling smashing, patriarchy destroying statement piece on what being a woman is all about. There’s so much complexity hidden within the confines of this visually dynamic embellishment on the Mattel brand’s single greatest toy line that I couldn’t possibly hope to litigate it all here in a single review. Suffice to say, Barbie is arguably the success story – both in box office and in cultural awareness – of 2023, and easily bests Nolan’s triumphant Oppenheimer for glory in the ticket sale haul record books.
From its hilarious opening riff on Kubrick’s famous 2001 Dawn of Man sequence, to its concluding Battle of the Ken’s on a Beach hilarity, Barbie is a raucous, meaningful story of love and meaning in a world almost always contrary to that ideal. With Robbie’s Barbie looking as close to the popular doll’s original schematics as a human can possibly get, and Gerwig’s astonishing eye for detail and design, as well as a white-hot screenplay eviscerating all manner of themes and subtexts about gender, misogyny and the matriarchy, the film really does sit on a number of broad shoulders to succeed. Not one thing about the film doesn’t work – Robbie and co-star Ryan Gosling, who is absolutely hilarious as the eponymous Ken, are abetted by a superb supporting cast including Kate McKinnon, Dua Lipa, Simu Liu, Ncuti Gatwa, Rhea Perlman, Will Ferrell and the direct narration of Helen Mirren (to name but a few) who bring the world of the Barbies and our world into direct conflict; there’s a fair amount of artistic license and narrative liberty taken in bringing Barbie into the Real World and back, but Gerwig and her team just make it work.
Crucial to the film’s success is, obviously Robbie herself. Her performance as Barbie is note-perfect, and absolutely confirms my feelings that she’s one of the best actresses working today. It cannot be easy being so absolutely gorgeous and having to try and play the very definition of feminine perfection (which is what Barbie has come to represent down the decades, despite caterwauling that she really isn’t at all) and to her credit Robbie is fantastic. Her transformation from simplistic superficiality to experiencing human emotions for the first time, to actually finding herself stepping away from the “stereotypical” Barbie image is so meta it hurts, and Robbie is smart enough to know and understand how to make it work.
Naturally, Ryan Gosling’s extremely asinine Ken, a simpering, superficial dullard who “discovers” patriarchy, and then tries to usurp Barbieland with the concept, is equally crucial to the movie’s plot, anchoring Barbie to her very DNA and yet pushing her outside the comfort zone in which both she and all the other Barbies in Barbieland live, which propels the movie in some quite hilarious ways. Gosling’s work is a match for that of Robbies, and I would suggest there’s a strong case that both would surely be in the frame for plenty of nominations come the 2023 award season. Perhaps the third most important person in Barbie is America Ferrera, as Gloria, a woman who seems to be lost within herself and for whom retreating into the world of Barbie again sets in motion the events depicted within the film. Ferrera has one of the all-time great monologues of anger, a powerful testament to sexuality and liberation, but also to conformity and expectation, and one suggests that of all the moments in the film that hit with audiences, this one will remain the strongest of all.
I don’t think there’s many who won’t find something to appreciate or love about Barbie. Greta Gerwig has crafted a film so sublime in its satire, so effortless in parody and so charming with its wit that it’s both razor-sharp cutting through the fog of gender wars and delivering piercing social commentary, and an absurdist trip evoking classic subversive examples from Hollywood’s past – the likes of Paul Thomas Anderson, the Daniels, even Kubrick himself (Dr Strangelove, I’m looking at you) all have elements of DNA within Barbie’s scintillating screenplay, which hammers everyone from marketing executives (Will Ferrell, basically doing the same thing he did in The Lego Movie) to franchise fanboys (the Snyder Cut cult gets a rap), it’s likely people will be dissecting it for years to come. This is an incredibly clever film, and while I know a lot of jokes won’t resonate with every single person who watches it, there’s so much to unpack here it’s going to be a pleasure rewatching this more than a few times.