Movie Review: BARBIE Starring Margot Robbie, Ryan Gosling, Ariana Greenblatt
I never imagined I’d review Barbie.
I remember when I was a wee little lad, my sister had a ton of different dolls. Cabbage Patch Kids, Barbie, she had a pretty impressive collection. I had Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Ghostbusters, and Lego. Every now and then, we’d play together and somehow pretend that the Ninja Turtles or Ghostbusters were together in the same universe, but by and large I knew next to nothing about Barbie dolls other than the fact that girls loved them.
So much so, in fact, that there was a hit song about them. Apparently, there is (was?) also an animated television show, and now, we have a full-length, big-budget feature film about it. Released the same weekend as Oppenheimer, Barbie is expected to be a tentpole of the summer movie lineup, and after seeing an early screening, I have to say that I like its chances.
If you’re only going because your significant other wants to go, I only ask that you keep an open mind. It certainly has a target audience: young people who may want to play with Barbie and older people who play/played with them when they were younger and want to reminisce. But even if you’re indifferent to the toys, there’s a good chance you’ll get some enjoyment out of it, as there are quite a few hilarious moments, especially towards the beginning. Barbies behave as though they’re being manipulated by invisible hands, magically descending from top floors of their houses straight into cars. Helen Mirren acts as narrator and provides a few precious lines that break the fourth wall. The first hour is near-perfectly crafted and absolutely flies by.
The last 54 minutes, though, dragged a little for me and were a bit uneven, transitioning from lighthearted levity to deadly serious in the blink of an eye without any segue. And as much as I usually enjoy Will Ferrell, his portrayal of the CEO of Mattel just felt… off. While the rest of the “real world” is portrayed as brutal, harsh, and unforgiving, Ferrell’s CEO acts with a trivial mindset that may as well have been ripped out of Elf. And I do understand that it’s meant to be a movie for people of all ages, especially children, to see, but it missed its mark for me.
Fortunately, Margot Robbie and Ryan Gosling are nothing less than extraordinary in their roles as Stereotypical Barbie and Ken, respectively. Robbie first caught much of the world’s eye in Wolf of Wall Street, but since then she’s shown the world she’s not just gorgeous but an incredibly talented and capable actress. She nails the role of Barbie, who starts off idyllic and living a perfect life, but then is forced to navigate the terrors of the real world, one who treats her only as eye candy to be used for pleasure. And Gosling is excellent in his own right as Ken, who lives only for Barbie’s attention initially, but whose eyes are opened in the real world to the concept of the patriarchy, an idea he fully embraces.
Much of the ensemble cast does a terrific job as well. America Ferrera, who plays a Mattel employee, delivers a scathing yet heartfelt speech about what it’s like for women in today’s society, and I’ll say it resonated pretty deeply with the women in the audience at the screening I attended. There are quite a few cameos and well-timed appearances in the movie that I’ll leave up to you to discover, but writer/director Greta Gerwig and writer Noah Baumbach did a masterful job letting even bit parts shine through.
Beyond that, the visuals in the film are incredibly well-done. The sets are amazingly crafted and presented as giant toys, from Barbie’s dream home to the static beach and “ocean” that Ken tries to surf in. Vehicles are represented as their toy versions, masterful reminders that this world is constructed out of plastic and imagination.
A couple of friends asked me whether the movie might be appropriate for their young daughters, around the ages of 5-8. If you’re concerned that it might be inappropriate, let your fears be allayed. I think I counted one instance of “hell” being said, and that’s about it. One obvious profanity was censored out to humorous effect, and I think there’s one instance of someone being kissed on the cheek, but there’s otherwise no romance or realistic violence (there is one fight, but they use toy sports equipment). There are a few innuendos tossed around for the sake of parents and older moviegoers, but nothing overly serious. So if your kids are interested in seeing it, don’t hesitate to take them.
All in all, while it isn’t a perfect effort, it’s still a terrific one. There are plenty of laughs to be had, and there is a very strong message presented about women being able to create their own paths in life. I brought my friend Krisden with me, and she absolutely loved it; she may or may not have threatened me to give it an A. I won’t be quite that generous, but I’ll give it an endorsement. Guys, you might feel a little silly going to see it, but I think in the end, you’ll be pleasantly surprised.
Barbie gets a B+