FILM REVIEW — To live and die in Barbie Land
Published 12:02 am Friday, July 21, 2023
Warner Brothers Films
Directed by Greta Gerwig
Starring Margot Robie, Ryan Gosling, Will Ferrell, Kate McKinnon, Simu Liu, Kingsley Ben-Adir, Emma Mackey and Dua Lipa
3 ½ Stars
For a couple of months now, people have been asking me who I think will win the cinematic showdown between “Barbie” and Oppenheimer.”
It’s an impossible question, as everybody has a different definition of what constitutes a “win.” That being said, if you’re asking about ticket sales, pop culture fun, amazing craftsmanship and just enough high art to make you forget that you’re watching a movie about a toy doll, then “Barbie” is the clear winner.
Directed by actress-turned writer/director Greta Gerwig, “Barbie” is a lot of fun, mostly because it is not just a longform commercial for the beloved doll.
This is not a sparkly pink fantasy come to life. This is a movie about a fleshed-out character undergoing an existential crisis that also deals with thorny issues of female empowerment, fragile masculinity and the patriarchy.
So, yeah, not a simple Barbie and her pals go on an adventure type of a movie.
Margot Robie stars as Stereotypical Barbie, one of the many Barbies that live and play in Barbie Land. Ryan Gosling plays one of the many Ken dolls who seem to exist only as an accessory to serve the Barbies.
Barbie seems to have a perfect, carefree existence until the day she suddenly starts thinking about death. Barbie naively decides to look for answers and sets out for the human world, but she and Ken are shocked to find contemporary Los Angeles is not the sparkly pink paradise they had expected it to be.
The movie works on two fronts. On the surface, this is the story of what happens as Barbie and Ken have an adventure, but that’s simply the outfacing plot. The meat of this movie deals with how dolls are forced to confront their expectations about their place in the world and how that changes them forever.
It’s surprising how profound these revelations can be, given the central characters are a child’s plastic toys.
Of course, it also helps that Gerwig has assembled a superb cast. Robie is perfect in the titular role. She embodies all that’s right, and wrong with the doll that has come to represent American female beauty standards. And as good as she is, Gosling may be even better. He is able to steal so many scenes that you’d be forgiven for leaving the theater thinking mostly about his performance.
The rest of the cast is uniformly good, and features several surprising appearances that should delight casual audiences.
If that’s not enough, the costume design and sets are Oscar-caliber. They may be in service to a pop culture movie, but this is craftsmanship at the highest level. “Barbie” simply doesn’t work if you don’t believe that Barbie Land actually exists.
All of which makes for a very fun night at the movies, especially if you happen to be a 20-something female, which is the film’s obvious demographic target.
Then again, this 57-year-old man also had a blast watching my sister’s dolls spring to life in a very funny adventure that also has a solid sprinkling of dramatic heft. I love it when art and entertainment mesh so seamlessly.
I thought “Barbie” would be fun. I had no idea it would also be this good. Which means that in this weekend’s “Barbenheimer” showdown, the real winner will be the audiences who have two very good movies to enjoy.
The only question is which will you see first?
Movie reviews by Sean McBride, “The Movie Guy,” are published each week by Orange Newsmedia and seen weekly on KFDM and Fox4. Sean welcomes your comments via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.