Barbie (2023) Film Review, a movie directed by Greta Gerwig, written by Noah Baumbach and Greta Gerwig and starring Margot Robbie, Ryan Gosling, America Ferrera, Kate McKinnon, Ariana Greenblatt, Kingsley Ben-Adir, Emma Mackey, Hari Nef, Will Ferrell, Nicola Coughlan, John Cena, Dua Lipa, Helen Mirren, Simu Liu, Michael Cera, Alexandra Shipp, Anne Mumolo and Ritu Arya.
Filmmaker Greta Gerwig has directed a comedy that has a little bit of everything going for it even if it occasionally gets bogged down by an all-too-familiar basic “fish out of water” story line. In any event, Margot Robbie makes Gerwig’s new film, Barbie, tremendously fun to watch. Based on the popular Mattel Barbie doll line, Gerwig’s latest challenging film could have been better If not for a series of zany chase scenes and the sequences where the central Ken (Ryan Gosling) in the film goes off on his own personal tangents. Still, Robbie’s performance is everything here and she’s supported by some fine character actresses as well.
As the movie opens, we see the rise of the Barbie doll as Helen Mirren narrates how the original doll was actually a baby doll. until the introduction of the “stereotypical” blonde Barbie came to be. This blonde Barbie came to become a female hero of sorts opening up the path to other types of successful Barbies which all live together in Barbieland. The whole concept of Barbieland is loaded with appropriate pink scenery but feels a bit like it was lifted from the thriller Don’t Worry Darling from last year. There are some differences. The neighbors all have the same names for the most part (Barbie and Ken) and the nights are filled with fun parties and dancing. One of the best scenes has all the Barbies dancing together and Gosling’s Ken tries to make the stereotypical Barbie played by Robbie notice him.
One day, Barbie starts to have darker thoughts than she should and, soon, she gets flat feet which doesn’t go so well with high heels. She seeks out a “weird” Barbie (Kate McKinnon) who is strange like she is because her former owner cut her hair differently and played with her in different ways than the norm. McKinnon’s Barbie tells Robbie’s Barbie she must go into the real world to get more perspective on her situation and to cure her case of flat feet, she will need to make some big decisions. So, Barbie is soon off to the real world, but Gosling’s Ken reluctantly tags along with her because he really likes her. Stereotypical Barbie isn’t necessarily sure of her true feelings for Ken, though.
It turns out the young daughter of a Mattel employee who once played with Barbies named Gloria (the perfect America Ferrera) is having a tough time and Gloria isn’t too happy nowadays either. When Barbie enters the real world and the CEO of Mattel (Will Ferrell) catches on to it, Gloria whisks Barbie away in an effort to help her. Ken, meanwhile, ends up in “la la land” where he thinks cool styles and trends that he sees in the real world are going to carry over back in Barbieland. Ken wants to make Barbieland a bit more male friendly which complicates an already odd situation.
Michael Cera plays one of the few characters with a different name (Allan) in Barbieland and though Cera has his moments, he’s a character who doesn’t add much to the film overall. The same can be said for John Cena’s Mermaid Ken who, if you blink, could probably get lost in the movie’s colorful shuffle.
There are some inspired scenes such as when Barbie and Ken get arrested in the real world and the pair realizes how male heavy the real world seems to actually be when compared to Barbieland. A lot of the scenes in the real world aren’t up to Gerwig’s usual level of perfection until the Gloria character comes into the picture. Ferrera is absolutely amazing as she lays out to Barbie the differences between what is expected from women versus the unachievable goals that women in America set out to take on. Gerwig’s writing proves to be terrific through the spoken dialogue of Ferrera’s Gloria. Noah Baumbach also wrote the script as well and deserves kudos for some of the sharper observations the film presents.
This film takes an emotional turn at the end as it explores humanity and teaches us some important lessons regarding the fact that all people (and dolls, I suppose) need to be themselves in order to be happy. Love is an added emotion but doesn’t define a person or a doll. The business executives from Mattel also learn a couple of things along the way. A funny scene has Ferrell’s character trying to get stereotypical Barbie in her box again to have her start a new “journey” and be quiet.
Some of the Barbies work better than others. Emma Mackey, Hari Nef and Issa Rae play the more memorable Barbies of the movie with their distinct personalities intact in the Barbies these performers portray. I only wish Gosling’s Ken didn’t do what he does in the movie which is try to be his own “man” in order to change Barbieland. He feels like more of a villain than Ferrell’s character is. The scenes where the Kens briefly take over Barbieland are funny but feel a bit tainted in regard to the film’s views on supposed male dominance in the world (real or fictional).
That being said, Robbie is gold in the part she was born to play. Robbie brings a series of complicated emotions to her character and her scenes with Ferrera are particularly effective. Robbie and Gosling have some good interaction together too before the movie runs off with itself with a series of scenes where Gosling’s Ken gets too self-assured and cocky for his own good. Gosling has received rave reviews certain places for his performance here, but it is Robbie who really makes Gerwig’s movie so special. Robbie brings really genuine emotions, confusion and wonder to the character of Barbie and Robbie fans will love reveling in the worlds the movie surrounds her in. Helen Mirren even breaks the fourth wall to comment on Robbie’s casting as Barbie in a hilarious way.
Barbie is a truly entertaining film that should certainly be seen despite its flaws. Gerwig’s direction has its problems but still manages to put a smile on viewers’ faces before the end credits roll. Gerwig delves deep into the world of Barbies and the people in the real world who play with them and, in the end, is more on-point than not. Stay put at the conclusion of the movie for images of the real Barbie dolls that were out through the years. This film brings the creator of the Barbie doll into the story line as well which makes for heartwarming scenes that could leave a tear in some viewers’ eyes so bring some Kleenex just in case.
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