In the beginning there were baby dolls which encouraged young girls to practice motherhood. But in the late 1950’s, a revolutionary adult female doll was introduced that became all the rage. Over the years she sent mixed messages, illustrating how a woman could enter traditionally male careers while promoting an absurd body and beauty standard. Living in her female fantasy world, a sudden thought about mortality sends her on a quest to find who is playing with her in the real world and what she discovers there will shock “Barbie.”
Laura's Review: B-
I was expecting a sharp, feminist satire from cowriter (with Noah Baumbach)/director Greta Gerwig ("Lady Bird," "Little Women"), but instead she’s given us a battle of the sexes comedy where women reign supreme in Barbieland while the patriarchy controls the real world. When Ken (Ryan Gosling), who pines daily for Barbie’s (Margot Robbie) favor, stows away on her adventure, he’s inspired by the power shift and such manly symbols as wild horses and returns to Barbieland on his own to start a revolution. Suddenly Barbie’s Dream House is Ken’s Mojo Dojo Casa House and President Barbie (Issa Rae) is happily fetching brewskis while her constitution is being amended.
Meanwhile, Barbie, who gets arrested twice in short order in the real world, is flabbergasted that a construction site isn’t the place for a sisterly chat and breaks down crying when, finding Sasha (Ariana Greenblatt, "Love and Monsters," "65") at school sitting with friends, is told Barbie is hated, is ‘sexualized Capitalism’ and called a Fascist. But, as it turns out, Barbie wasn’t really played with by Sasha but Sasha’s mom Gloria (America Ferrera), a Mattel employee whose doodles including ‘Irrepressible Thoughts of Death Barbie’ brought on her identity crisis (Robbie’s Barbie refers to herself as ‘Stereotypical Barbie’ when ‘Classic Barbie’ would have been a whole lot more appropriate). After getting picked up on orders by Mattel’s CEO (Will Ferrell) who urges her to get back into her box (literally), Barbie escapes, meets her creator Ruth (Rhea Perlman) and is saved by Gloria who bonds with her daughter while traveling back to Barbieland.
There’s a lot to like here from the dollhouse production design of Barbieland, the nostalgic Barbie (and Ken!) outfits, the feet shaped for stilettos and Weird Barbie, whose chopped hair, crayoned face and constant split pose evoke abused dolls everywhere. But none of the many other Barbies (Rae, "Emily's" Emma Mackey, Hari Nef, 'Brigerton's' Nicola Coughlan, Dua Lupa, Alexandra Shipp, Ritu Arya, Sharon Rooney) make much of an impression and, in fact, this movie’s MVP is Gosling, whose exaggerated facial reactions, confusing sexual urges and pride in ‘doing beach’ add up to one adorable himbo. He even gets to sing possible Best Song nominee ‘I’m Just Ken.’ Also good are Simu Liu ("Shangi-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings") as Gosling’s Ken’s confident rival Ken, Michael Cera as Barbieland’s lone Allan and Ferrera, whose ‘women as cognitive dissonance in a patriarchy’ speech is the film’s best piece of writing, delivered with convicted passion. Helen Mirren supplies the film’s droll narration from its “2001” inspired prologue through reminding the filmmakers midstream that casting Margot Robbie doesn’t lend to believability when Barbie declares herself ugly.
But feminism is all about equality, not superiority and while Barbie ultimately realizes she’s taken Ken for granted and encourages him to figure out what makes him Ken, women retake Barbieland making few concessions. The film’s forays into Mattel headquarters are an inconsequential diversion reinforcing patriarchal notions and while Barbie’s last spoken sentence is a good punch line, it doesn’t support the film’s Pinocchio inspired ending. “Barbie” offers a lot of laughs and is colorful entertainment, but its message is muddled.
Robin's Review: B
Barbie (Margot Robbie) lives the perfect (pink) life. That is, until that life starts to unravel and she must leave the safety and security of Barbieland and sets off in her pink Corvette (with a special stowaway on board) to the “real” world to find out why in “Barbie.”
Director Greta Gerwig takes on her most ambitious task ever: Introducing the iconic Mattel doll to a world probably not all that familiar with Barbie and Ken. The story begins with Helen Mirren narrating a brief history of baby dolls and the little girls who own them.
In a “2001: A Space Oddest” inspired opening, little girls everywhere realize that they have been duped as the feminine pawns in a patriarchic world. They smash their baby dolls and are liberated with the introduction of the atypical doll named Barbie. No more will girls be cubby-holed in the mothers-only role as their future. Doctors, lawyers, judges and business women became the new role models for girls.
But, in Barbie’s current, perfect world a wrench is thrown into the works and things shirt to happen – like flat feet and no high heels. She must leave the perfection of Barbieland and venture into the real world – with stowaway, Ken (Ryan Gosling).
Barbie’s entry into the real world is one fraught with peril as she searches for the little girl who “owns” her. The revelation is very disturbing in that the girl, Sasha (Ariana Greenbelt), rejects Barbie as anti-feminist, giving girls the wrong message. Then, she goes to Mattel HQ and is shocked to find it run…by men!
While Barbie struggles with her new reality, Ken is on a quest of his own when he realizes that the “real” world is a patriarch’s delight. He tells Barbie that he is going back to Barbieland to get help but what happens is beyond her comprehension – it is a man’s world.
So, we have an adventure taking shape where Barbie’s new knowledge about the world inspires her to make things right, including a visit to Ruth (Rhea Perlman) – those very familiar with Barbie will get the reference right away (I did not, but it was explained to me). She is inspired by the meeting and returns to Barbieland.
This is where things get convoluted as her return home is not her home anymore. Barbieland and its femme leadership has become Kendo and he has brainwashed all of the Barbies (and there are many) to be submissive to the Kens. His plan is to make their world just like the real world – where men rule.
Here is where I get a little confused by the mixed messages the movie drlivers. In Barbie’s world, women and their inherent “niceness” directs their world where Kens keep Barbies on a pedestal. Ken’s journey to the real world is a life changer for him. He realizes that he, along with all the other Kens, is now in charge. Battle lines between the Barbies and the Kens are drawn.
I liked “Barbie” for the first three quarters with its femme-oriented story. It starts to wane, for me, when the “man’s world” takes control of Barbie’s world. It is all a pro-girls flick in the end, but the messages got confused. But, as I think about this colorful confection, I realize that women’s battle for equality – true equality – is an ongoing one that is still a long way from being won. Director Greta Gerwig and her cast and crew do the heavy lifting to show that.
Warner Brothers opens "Barbie" in theaters on 7/21/23.