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Movie Review: ‘Barbie’

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Margot Robbie as Barbie in Warner Bros. Pictures’ ‘Barbie,’ a Warner Bros. Pictures release. Photo Credit: Courtesy Warner Bros. Pictures. Copyright: © 2023 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Barbie,’ which is based on the famous Mattel doll and was co-written by Oscar nominees Greta Gerwig (‘Lady Bird’) and Noah Baumbach (‘Marriage Story’), and directed by Gerwig, opens in theaters on July 21st.

What is the plot of ‘Barbie’?

After being expelled from the utopian Barbie Land for being less-than-perfect dolls, Barbie (Margot Robbie) and Ken (Ryan Gosling) go on a journey of self-discovery to the real world.

Who is in the cast of ‘Barbie’?

Margot Robbie (‘Babylon‘), Ryan Gosling (‘The Gray Man‘), America Ferrera (‘End of Watch‘), Rhea Perlman (‘Poms‘), Will Ferrell (‘The Lego Movie‘), Kate McKinnon (‘Bombshell‘), Issa Rae (‘Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse‘), Hari Nef (‘Meet Cute‘), Alexandra Shipp (‘X-Men: Apocalypse‘), Emma Mackey (‘Death on the Nile‘), Sharon Rooney (‘Dumbo‘), Dua Lipa, Nicola Coughlan (‘Bridgerton’), Ana Cruz Kayne (‘Little Women‘), Ritu Arya (‘Polite Society‘), Kingsley Ben-Adir (‘Secret Invasion‘), Simu Liu (‘Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings‘), Scott Evans (‘Almost Love‘), Ncuti Gatwa (‘The Last Letter from Your Lover‘), John Cena (‘Fast X‘), Helen Mirren (‘Shazam! Fury of the Gods‘), Emerald Fennell (‘The Danish Girl‘), Michael Cera (‘Superbad‘), and Ariana Greenblatt (‘65‘).

Initial Thoughts

‘Barbie’ is a surprisingly subversive, entertaining, and hilarious movie that was beautifully shot by director Greta Gerwig. The filmmaker sets a strong tone and Barbie Land is a fully formed universe, however the movie loses a little magic when the characters briefly travel to the “Real World.” Margot Robbie delivers a funny and very emotional performance as Barbie, but it is Ryan Gosling that steals the movie as Ken, delivering a hilarious and also musical over-the-top performance.

Story and Direction

Director/Writer Greta Gerwig attends the 'Barbie' Press Junket Photo Call at the Four Seasons Hotel in Beverly Hills, CA.

Director/Writer Greta Gerwig attends the ‘Barbie’ Press Junket Photo Call at the Four Seasons Hotel in Beverly Hills, CA. Photo by Eric Charbonneau.

The story is fairly simple and begins by introducing us to the colorful and delightful Barbie Land and all of the Barbies and Kens that live within it. We soon meet “Stereotypical Barbie,” (that’s actually what she is referred to in the movie), played by Margot Robbie. Barbie lives a perfect life among the other Barbies, which include President Barbie (Issa Rae), Physicist Barbie (Emma Mackey), Journalist Barbie (Ritu Arya), and even Mermaid Barbie (Dua Lipa), until one day she realizes her life is not as perfect as she thinks. This begins an existential crisis for the character that leads her to Weird Barbie (Kate McKinnon), who explains that she must travel to the “Real World,” to find the human who is “playing with her.”

As Barbie journeys to the real world, she discovers that Ken (Ryan Gosling) has tagged along as his world revolves around Barbie and he would not know what to do without her. But once they arrive, Ken discovers the antiquated idea that men are superior to women. No longer wanting to live in Barbie’s shadow, Ken quickly returns to Barbie Land, suppresses the other Barbies and leads the other Kens to a misogynistic revolution.

Meanwhile, Barbie discovers her owner, a teenager named Sasha (Ariana Greenblatt) who has lost interest in dolls and no longer believes in Barbie’s ideals. Her mother, Gloria (America Ferrera), just happens to work for the CEO of Mattel (Will Ferrell), who is fully aware that something is wrong in Barbie Land as it is causing sales of the toys to go down. Now, it is up to Barbie, Gloria and Sasha to return to Barbie Land, liberate the other Barbies, and put an end to Ken’s evil reign.

Ryan Gosling as Ken and Margot Robbie as Barbie in Warner Bros. Pictures’ 'Barbie,' a Warner Bros. Pictures release.

(L to R) Ryan Gosling as Ken and Margot Robbie as Barbie in Warner Bros. Pictures’ ‘Barbie,’ a Warner Bros. Pictures release. Photo Credit: Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures. Copyright: © 2023 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. All Rights Reserved.

The screenplay by Greta Gerwig and Noah Baumbach is quite clever and sets the right tone for a fun summer movie that also tackles a lot of important subjects like female empowerment and toxic masculinity with grace and humor. The film is also not afraid of making fun of itself and the absurdity of a ‘Barbie’ movie, while also taking on the criticisms that Mattel and the doll line have faced over the years and making the case of why Barbie is a good role model for girls. Kudos to Mattel for having the smarts to hire Gerwig and Baumbach (two excellent filmmakers) in the first place and then having the guts to let them make the movie they wanted to make.

Gerwig began her career as an actress in films like ‘Greenberg,’ ‘The House of the Devil’ and ‘Arthur’ but wrote 2012’s ‘Frances Ha,’ which she also starred in. She made her directorial with ‘Lady Bird,’ which earned her an Oscar nomination for Best Director, and followed it with ‘Little Women,’ which earned her an Oscar nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay. ‘Barbie’ is a big leap for her from Academy Award nominated movies to summer blockbusters, but the director does it with ease, crafting a completely enjoyable popcorn film, that also makes you think. Gerwig’s independent film background also serves her well as she fills the movies with odd inspirations, from a reference to ‘The Red Shoes’ to the choice of using a particular Indigo Girls song ad nauseum.

Related Article: Director Greta Gerwig Talks ‘Barbie’

Margot Robbie as Barbie

Margot Robbie as Barbie

Margot Robbie as Barbie in Warner Bros. Pictures’ ‘Barbie,’ a Warner Bros. Pictures release. Photo Credit: Jaap Buitendijk. Copyright: © 2022 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. All rights reserved.

It has long been rumored that comedian Amy Schumer was originally tapped to play the title role in ‘Barbie,’ and while I understand what they would have been going for with a “Not Perfect Barbie,” I actually think that message gets across better by casting Margot Robbie in the lead role. Aesthetically she looks perfect, which is why she is called “Stereotypical Barbie,” but Robbie is also an incredible actress, which allows her to chip away at the character’s perfectness and show you who she really is, which is strong and vulnerable at the same time, her greatest strength. Robbie’s performance gets to the heart of the character, and the theme of the movie, which is that every women can be whatever she wants and is in charge of her own destiny. ‘Barbie’ gives Robbie her first chance at leading a blockbuster movie without playing Harley Quinn, and the actress proves that she has a lot of range and is now a big time movie star in her own right too.

Ryan Gosling as Ken

Ryan Gosling as Ken and Margot Robbie as Barbie in Warner Bros. Pictures’ 'Barbie,' a Warner Bros. Pictures release.

(L to R) Ryan Gosling as Ken and Margot Robbie as Barbie in Warner Bros. Pictures’ ‘Barbie,’ a Warner Bros. Pictures release. Photo Credit: Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures. Copyright: © 2023 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. All Rights Reserved.

While Robbie’s Barbie is definitely the focal point of the film and carries the movie well, she also allows her co-star Ryan Gosling to steal every scene he’s in. Best known for his cool-as-ice public persona and appearing in action dramas like ‘Drive’ or ‘The Gray Man,’ Gosling really gets to use his comedic chops in this film and takes advantage of every opportunity he has to poke fun at the character, while never becoming a cliché. Though his actions are misguided, Gosling reveals his characters’ vulnerability and low self-esteem, which allows the audience to sympathize with the character. Make no mistakes, Ken is the villain of the movie, which is delightful in itself, but Gosling is still likable as the character despite his despicable actions.

It should also be noted that ‘Barbie’ is partially a musical, and with his dancing background in films like ‘La La Land,’ and of course his history with the ‘Mickey Mouse Club,’ the actor knocks it out of the park in his dance scenes and especially his MTV video like sequence where he sings the opus “Just Ken.” Once Ken “goes bad,” Gosling’s transformation from an innocent lovesick puppy dog to a misogynistic 90’s boyband reject was absolutely brilliant and brings some of the movie’s best laughs. Gosling and Robbie are great together on screen, and clearly understood the tone Gerwig was going for.

Other Characters

Margot Robbie as Barbie and Kate McKinnon as Barbie in Warner Bros. Pictures’ 'Barbie,' a Warner Bros. Pictures release.

(L to R) Margot Robbie as Barbie and Kate McKinnon as Barbie in Warner Bros. Pictures’ ‘Barbie,’ a Warner Bros. Pictures release. Photo Credit: Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures. Copyright: © 2023 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. All Rights Reserved.

There are so many well-known actors and actress playing different versions of Barbie and Ken that I can’t mention them all, but Issa Rae certainly stood out as President Barbie, as did Kate McKinnon playing Weird Barbie, the doll your older brother got a hold of and put through a woodchipper. Emma Mackey, who is often confused with Robbie in real life, was cleverly cast as Physicist Barbie, and musician Dula Lipa also stands out in a cameo as Mermaid Barbie opposite John Cena’s Mermaid Ken. Two MCU alumni, ‘Secret Invasion’s Kingsley Ben-Adir and ‘Shang-Chi’s Simu Liu also play Kens, but neither are given anything significant to do. While many may not remember, the Mattel line of dolls did introduce two other less popular characters, Allan and Midge, who are played well comedically by Michael Cera and Emerald Fennell, respectively.

Outside of the Barbie Land characters, America Ferrera and Ariana Greenblatt are both great as Gloria and Sasha, respectively, and their mother/daughter relationship really helps to bring home the message of the movie. Helen Mirren plays the narrator and I can’t think of an actress with more gravitas to voice the role. The script also allows her to add her own funny commentary, including mentioning that Barbie’s eloquent monologue about the pressures of being beautiful would have more weight if not delivered by an actress as aesthetically pleasing as Robbie.

Issa Rae as Barbie, Scott Evans as Ken, Simu Liu as Ken, Emma Mackey as Barbie and Ncuti Gatwa as Ken in Warner Bros. Pictures’ 'Barbie,' a Warner Bros. Pictures release. Photo Credit: Courtesy Warner Bros. Pictures.

(L to R) Issa Rae as Barbie, Scott Evans as Ken, Simu Liu as Ken, Emma Mackey as Barbie and Ncuti Gatwa as Ken in Warner Bros. Pictures’ ‘Barbie,’ a Warner Bros. Pictures release. Photo Credit: Courtesy Warner Bros. Pictures. Copyright: © 2023 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. All Rights Reserved.

However, there were a few “real world” characters that didn’t quite work. Look, it’s always nice to see legendary ‘Cheers’ actress Rhea Pearlman on screen, but she plays the ghost of Barbie creator Ruth Handler, who unexplainably lives on the 7th floor of Mattel’s corporate headquarters. While the actress gives a nice monologue that ties the themes of the movie together at the conclusion, it didn’t seem entirely necessary. The film already asks us to except the idea that Barbie Land and the dolls are real, so trying to also except that ghosts and the afterlife exist seemed a step too far for me.

I also have to question the casting of Will Ferrell as the CEO of Mattel, as it is basically the same character he played in ‘The Lego Movie,’ which uses a similar storytelling device with the idea that the toys are real and what they do in their world affects ours. Maybe Gerwig was going for a meta-joke with his casting, or perhaps she just wanted to work with Ferrell, who is perfectly fine in the role, but I couldn’t help thinking of the comparisons to ‘The Lego Movie’ and Ferrell’s inclusion took me out of the movie in some moments.

The Real World is No Fun

Margot Robbie as Barbie in Warner Bros. Pictures’ 'Barbie,' a Warner Bros. Pictures release.

Margot Robbie as Barbie in Warner Bros. Pictures’ ‘Barbie,’ a Warner Bros. Pictures release. Photo Credit: Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures. Copyright: © 2023 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Which leads to my next point, the “real world” scenes are definitely the low point of the film. Once Barbie and Ken journey to the real world, which is about 30 minutes into the movie, I was worried that the rest of the film would take place there and it would become a “fish out of water” story with Barbie not understanding human concepts like money, or being sexually objectified by men. Unfortunately, those stale jokes are used, but luckily the characters do not stay in the real world for long and the third act takes place back in Barbie Land. I do understand why the characters needed to go to the “real world,” plot wise Ken needed to discover misogyny in order to bring it back to Barbie Land, and while some scenes work, like Ken’s altercation with a female doctor, it’s not the high point of the film and you are grateful when they do return to Barbie Land.

Barbie Land

Margot Robbie as Barbie in Warner Bros. Pictures’ 'Barbie,'

Margot Robbie as Barbie in Warner Bros. Pictures’ ‘Barbie,’ a Warner Bros. Pictures release.

The major set piece of the movie is Barbie Land and it comes to life beautifully with eye-popping color and a magical tone. Set designer Sarah Greenwood and decorator Katie Spencer did marvelous work creating a realistic yet magical world and I wouldn’t be surprised if they are rewarded for their work come awards season. Their design for Ken’s Barbie Land is also unique and fabulous, with stallions and heavy metal featured throughout. Costume designer Jacqueline Durran will also likely be on a shortlist come Oscar time with stunning costumes that represent many of Barbie’s iconic looks. But again, the fun is when Ken transforms and his costumes look like a cross between Sylvester Stallone in the 80s and ‘N Sync.

Is ‘Barbie’ a Kid’s Movie?

Margot Robbie as Barbie in Warner Bros. Pictures’ 'Barbie.'

Margot Robbie as Barbie in Warner Bros. Pictures’ ‘Barbie,’ a Warner Bros. Pictures release.
Photo Courtesy Warner Bros. Pictures.

No, is the short answer. With a PG-13 rating, some material may be inappropriate for pre-teenagers, and while they might enjoy the humor, musical numbers, and colorful characters and sets, some of the film’s political and pop culture messages will get lost on a young audience, but its message of love and equality will shine through, even if it is subliminally.

Final Thoughts

Director Greta Gerwig has done the impossible … delivered a ‘Barbie’ movie that is an entertaining summer blockbuster, while also being socially important and containing thoughtful, emotional and funny performances. Margot Robbie earns her movie star status producing and starring in this well-made summer tentpole, while Ryan Gosling proves he’s just as funny as he is cool with his hilarious over-the-top performance.

‘Barbie’ receives 9 out of 10 stars.

Kingsley Ben-Adir as Ken, Ryan Gosling as Ken, Margot Robbie as Barbie, Simu Liu as Ken, Ncuti Gatwa as Ken and Scott Evans as Ken in Warner Bros. Pictures’ 'Barbie,' a Warner Bros. Pictures release.

(L to R) Kingsley Ben-Adir as Ken, Ryan Gosling as Ken, Margot Robbie as Barbie, Simu Liu as Ken, Ncuti Gatwa as Ken and Scott Evans as Ken in Warner Bros. Pictures’ ‘Barbie,’ a Warner Bros. Pictures release. Photo Credit: Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures. Copyright: © 2023 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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‘Barbie’ is produced by Warner Bros. Pictures, Heyday Films, LuckyChap Entertainment, and Mattel Films. It is set to release in theaters on July 21st.

 

Content Source: www.moviefone.com

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