Directed by: Greta Gerwig | 114 minutes | comedy, adventure | Actors: Margot Robbie, Ryan Gosling, America Ferrera, Ariana Greenblatt, Michael Cera, Will Ferrell, Issa Rae, Kate McKinnon, Alexandra Shipp, Emma Mackey, Hari Nef, Sharon Rooney, Ana Cruz Kayne, Ritu Arya, Dua Lipa, Nicola Coughlan, Rhea Perlman, Simu Liu, Kingsley Ben-Adir, Ncuti Gatwa, Scott Evans, John Cena, Emerald Fennell, Connor Swindells
Barbie, a striking and shiny appearance in pink, is essentially a promotional product. The focus of this fanciful comedy is without a doubt the best toy ever conceived. Since her debut in 1959, the Barbie doll has surpassed almost every other toy and has become a cultural icon – albeit a hypocritical embodiment of the capitalist system that spawned her. As a result, Greta Gerwig, who is very aware of this, transforms her advertisement for the most popular toy ever into a treatise on femininity and everything in between. Barbie’s plastic parade of craziness and silly antics gradually gives way to the kind of fragile and vulnerable emotions that Gerwig is so damn good at, even if it may not be as devastating or sharp as it first appears.
The opening scene cleverly parodies the “Dawn of Men” sequence from ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’, introducing Barbie as the ultimate game changer in the doll universe and expanding young girls’ play options beyond traditional stereotypes. The film’s unnamed narrator (voiced by Helen Mirren) points out that Barbie can be anything and anyone: a president (played by Issa Rae), a doctor (played by Hari Nef), an artist (played by Alexandra Shipp), and so on. Barbie is much more than the standard image that defined her before.
Margot Robbie plays the leading role in ‘Barbie’, who epitomizes “stereotype Barbie”. She spends her days on the beach and her nights throwing slumber parties, while awkwardly avoiding the advances of Ryan Gosling’s Ken, “just Ken”, much to his dismay. One evening, in the middle of an amazing and carefully prepared group dance routine, she is suddenly overcome by “uncontrollable thoughts of death” that continue to haunt her no matter how hard she tries to avoid them. These thoughts lead to more bizarre events that destabilize Barbie’s perfect existence and send her and Ken to the very flawed “real” world. There she asks Sasha (played by Ariana Greenblatt), a shin-kicking pre-teen, and Gloria (played by America Ferrera), her mother and a Mattel employee, for clarification.
To be fair, the humor in the film is great. While Gerwig and Noah Baumbach’s writing sometimes lacks structure, it’s packed with jokes and bizarre situations that keep the film moving forward at a brisk pace. The whole ensemble is on par when it comes to the comedic style of the film, especially Will Ferrell, who plays the anonymous CEO of Mattel in the same vein as Buddy (“The Elf”) and Lord Business (“The Lego Movie”). But it’s Gosling who really stands out. His performance as Ken is both humorous and sad, like a real manly “bimbo”. If Barbie is the epitome of the ideal woman, then Ken is a half-formed concept of a man, and Gosling portrays its inherent comedy and tragedy with the energy of a confused puppy. As in ‘The Nice Guys’, Gosling goes to great lengths to embarrass himself. But let’s not overlook Robbie either. She masterfully manages to combine the heightened humor in the first half of the film with the vulnerable tenderness in the second half.
If you dig deeper into it, ‘Barbie’ can be seen as a coming-of-age story. Despite Gerwig’s lavish direction and eye-catching set design, the sincerity of the Barbie character continues to shine. The message may seem overly simple and at times cliché feminist, but like anything covered in glitter and jewels, it is easier to sell and grabs the public’s attention. While some might accuse Gerwig of promoting commerce by making a film about a toy icon, she has actually managed to create a compelling and emotional journey of self-discovery within the context of a toy commercial.