Barbie – Review

Barbie MovieGreta Gerwig’s candy-coloured Barbie movie has been one of the most anticipated movies of the past few years. One half of the so-called “Barbenheimer”, it hit the box offices in a wave of pink and sequins, with audiences lapping up the chance to pose in life-size Mattel boxes or attend their screenings in various shades of bubblegum.

But beyond the perfectly coiffured hairstyles, the elegantly feminine wardrobe and the oh-so-plastic teeth and tan, does Gerwig’s film really have anything to say or is this just a quest to sell more dolls?

Well, if there are more Barbies sold as a result of this movie, it’s not because the whole thing is a cash grab. In fact, there are young girls emerging from the cinema realising that they don’t have to be – quite literally – put in a box. Nor do they have to exist simply just to look good. There are also a lot of women in their 20s and 30s feeling fired up and more than a little “seen”.

At the heart of the film, we have Margot Robbie’s Barbie. She lives a light-hearted life in her Dream House, untroubled by anything other than where to have her next dance party. But one day, she starts having intrusive thoughts. Could this be why her feet are suddenly flat or why she – gasp – appears to have cellulite? It is explained to her that the young girl who plays with her in the “real world” is fed up with Barbies. And so begins a quest to restore Barbie to perfection …

The cast list – like Oppenheimer – is huge. There are so many cameos and pop ups that will make you want to furiously IMDb the whole thing afterwards. But the key leads – Robbie, Ryan Gosling and America Ferrera – are absolutely flawless (no pun intended). Robbie offers a sweet and charming turn as “stereotypical Barbie”, adding more nuance and depth as she emotionally unravels. This is a really fun and layered role where Robbie (and her dance skills) really shine.

America Ferrera’s Gloria has been gaining rounds of applause, cheers and whistles in cinemas everywhere. Her impassioned speech about the complexities and dichotomies of being a woman is one of the most impactful you’ll hear in a cinema. Gerwig’s writing is on point, here, as Gloria underlines how difficult it is to make your way in the world. It is a rallying cry that will have resonance all over the world: “It is literally impossible to be a woman … I’m just so tired of watching myself and every single other woman tie herself into knots so that people will like us.”

Ryan Gosling is in equally top form as Ken. His facial expressions and comic timing remind us how much of an all-rounder he really is. His line about “thinking the patriarchy had more to do with horses” is hilarious, as is his commitment to his Mojo Dojo Casa House. His punchy ballad, “I’m Just Ken” is sure to stay in your head for weeks after you’ve watched it. Gerwig has created a bit of a Diet Coke break moment with his character, with male critics and viewers complaining that it’s ridiculous that this character only exists to be looked at by women. There are complaints that a matriarchal system leaves the male characters with nothing to do, leaving them feeling worthless (hence Ken’s mid-doll crisis).  Whilst Gerwig has all of the awareness of what she’s doing … some viewers are clearly missing the point being made.

Barbie MovieJacqueline Durran’s costume design is flawless throughout – viewers of a, ahem, certain age, will delight in the nostalgia of certain outfits. Sarah Greenwood’s incredible set design sees the Dream House that every girl marked out in her Argos catalogue come to life, complete with toaster waffles and shower noises. Make up artist Ivana Primorac has all of the dolls looking plastic fantastic, with dreamy sparkles to highlight eyes and cheekbones and pearly pink pouts all round. Mark Ronson is credited as assembling the soundtrack and there are plenty of fluffy, disco bops on there to keep things light and fun.

Barbie manages to balance humour and humanity. It is perhaps not the movie that many expected it to be. Instead of offering up nothing but cute outfits and well-choreographed dance numbers (although it does both of these things extremely well), it offers a thoroughly poignant message to its viewers. You don’t have to conform to certain expectations; you don’t have to “fit in a box”. You can be yourself – with all the chaos and contradictions that that might bring – and still be a good person.

If that reminder isn’t worth the ticket price alone …

Barbie is now screening in UK cinemas.

Mary Munoz
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