Barbie (2023)

As the goat Beyonce once said in 2011, “Who runs the world, girls”. And that much is true and all we need to know when it comes to co-writer and director Greta Gerwig’s pinkified glamorous production known as Barbie. Once I walked out of the film, I overheard one of the seemingly hundreds of girls dressed in all pink say to her mom she thought the film was bad because of what they did to the main Barbie, also known as Stereotypical Barbie (Margot Robbie) at the end. To avoid any shred of a possibility of spoilers, I thought to myself, well, isn’t that the point of what Barbie truly stands for?

At one point in most of our lives (boys included) the Barbie doll has crossed our paths. The very doll with the blonde hair, perfect smile and immeasurable number of outfits and sets that Barbie can interact with. Imagination sold separately. But you can’t have Barbie without having a Ken (Ryan Gosling) doll paired up with her. The two are forever attached with Ken having his own line of various wardrobe changes and whatnot. But Greta Gerwig’s film isn’t called Ken, it’s a Barbie world and we all should consider ourselves lucky for getting an invite into Barbieland and the constant easy living and party that goes on there.

Speaking of Barbieland, production designer Sarah Greenwood, set decorator Katie Spencer and Ashley Swanson creates an immaculate and pristine set. The sky is cloudless blue, the houses are pink and spotless clean, breakfast is served at the right temperature, and the living is carefree. Every day in Barbieland is a blessing that never gets old, and the party never stops. Who wouldn’t want to live in Barbieland? Barbie is technically spectacular from the top down. Complimenting the production and sets  nicely is Jacqueline Durran’s costume design.  When I say almost everything is pink, believe it. Bright and vibrant colors command the screen – filling each frame with pops of contrast.  

Everyday Barbie wakes up, hair already done, feet elevated and everything perfect – Lizzo providing the background narrative music, obviously (who doesn’t want Lizzo as their background music). “Hi Barbie!” gets shouted from all neighbor Barbie’s, Midge (Emerald Fennell), Mattel’s discontinued pregnant doll, and final the Ken doll’s. All of which go out of their way to impress Stereotypical Barbie. Every night, at Barbie’s home, there is a party which all Barbie’s and Ken’s (and there are way too many to name, this review would be 2000 words plus) are invited. Each Ken (Kingsley Ben-Adir, Simu Liu) shows off more than the other just to be recognized.

During this blowout party Gerwig and co-writer Noah Baumbach’s narrative begins to take shape. An intrusive thought pops into Stereotypical Barbie’s head and the floodgates open. The needle drops on the party and all Barbie’s and Ken’s stop their movements. Stereotypical Barbie is having an existential crisis. Even Lizzo throws salt on the wound. The next day, Barbieland is met with burnt waffles, cold showers and the worst thing that could possibly happen – flat feet. Oh the humanity!

Been there, done that, welcome to the real would Barbie!

With an existential crisis come real growth. A chance for change and self-actualization. Barbie is given the advice from many of the other Barbie’s (Issa Rae, Hari Nef, Alexandra Shipp) to visit Weird Barbie (Kate McKinnon) for answers on why she’s having these obscure thoughts of death. Cut to a forced decision to go to the real world and unbeknownst to Barbie, Ken joins along with his everyday bright yellow rollerblades. A hop, skip, and a jump later paired with a stunning display of 2-dimensional visuals, Barbie and Ken enter the real world.

The real world is harsh, loud, obnoxious and objectifying. Immediately Gerwig plays on the juxtaposition between the two separated worlds. Barbieland is feminist forward and lovely and the real world is all about the patriarchy – ugly and brash, something Ken discovers and never legs go of the idea. Margot Robbie plays on the meta humor Barbie is infused with. At one point, Barbie, which is ultimately narrated by Helen Mirren  makes the remark that if you want the perfect embodiment of a woman, Margot may not be the smartest choice. One of the many laugh out loud moments featured in Barbie that hit their mark.

As deep as Barbie is featuring a variety of mature themes and tones, even a tongue and cheek nod to Kubrick, Gerwig and Baumbach’s film is pure laugh out loud funny. The entire ensemble commit to this blending of dense human nature with levity. One rarely overpowers the other forming a perfect harmony within the stylized world of Barbieland. In the real world, Barbie is tasked to find the girl who plays with her to correct the horrifying flat-footed mistakes that have been happening to her. In her search, Barbie meets Sasha (Ariana Greenblatt) who, upon meeting proceeds to dismantle everything Barbie stands for or how the masses see what the doll has done to a woman’s image.

But Sasha isn’t the one Barbie is looking for, it’s Gloria (America Ferrera), Sasha’s mom. If Margot Robbie is the depiction of Barbie and the face of the film, America Ferrera is the beating heart and soul of this film. Gloria as a character is written to represent every little girl that Barbie was created for. America Ferrera’s performance will leave you speechless, this is not the Barbie film anyone expected – it’s assembled with extreme care to the idea that Ruth Handler (Rhea Perlman) saw in the world.

Let’s not forget Ryan Gosling with his bleached hair, beach profession and love of horses. In the sea full of talent, Ryan Gosling is a clear stand-out, bringing so much joy and happiness to his role.

Behind the non-stop humor, the messages, themes and pink hue, Barbie is not gender specific – Gerwig crafts a film for the Barbie’s, Ken’s, even Allan’s (Michael Cera) of the world. With all that, the most important aspect of Barbie is the idea, the coming-of-age story that we all experience in our lives. What we see in advertising and marketing to how women are supposed to look, act, feel and live is false. Some days, the best you can do is get through the 24 hours. Unrealistic expectations be damned and for this Ken, I am Kenough. We all are enough. Come on Barbie, let’s go party.

Screenplay By: Noah Baumbach & Greta Gerwig

Directed By: Greta Gerwig

Music By: Mark Ronson & Andrew Wyatt

Cinematography: Rodrigo Prieto

Starring: Margot Robbie, Kate McKinnon, Issa Rae, Ryan Gosling, Kingsley Ben-Adir, Simu Liu, America Ferrera, Michael Cera, Ariana Greenblatt, Helen Mirren, Will Farrell

Edited By: Nick Houy

Release Date: July 21, 2023

Running Time: 1 Hour 54 Minutes

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 89%

Based On: Barbie by Mattel

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

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