3.5 out of 5 stars (above average)
Barbie is one of those films you’ll either be entirely on-board with or spend its runtime groaning in agony. Coming from the minds of Greta Gerwig (director of Little Women and Lady Bird), Barbie is a fiercely feminist film made for adults whose direct satire of men and views on the state of the world in 2023 will either make you laugh or stare at the screen perplexed. There are positions and attitudes in Barbie that I do not agree with whatsoever, but the jokes, performances, and production design were strong enough for me to enjoy it.
Young girls have played with Barbies on Earth for decades, and unbeknownst to them, there’s a place called Barbieland where all their Barbies and Kens exist in perfect matriarchal harmony, believing Earth runs the same way. We follow one such Barbie (a flawlessly cast Margot Robbie) who begins to question her very existence after the little girl playing with her starts having negative thoughts. Determined to help the kid, Barbie and an emasculated Ken (a delightful Ryan Gosling) travel there, finding the little girl has grown into a frustrated mother (America Ferrera) with her own ticked-off daughter (Ariana Greeenblatt). Whilst Barbie tries to lift their spirits, Ken learns about Hollywood Masculinity (here meaning men view women as servants) and turns Barbieland into a dudetopia, where Barbie and friends must stop him. No I’m not joking, this is actually the plot.
Barbie the toy may be intended for everyone, but Barbie the movie is not. The film is not so much a story as it is a megaphone through which to yell its message at you, but the performances were so strong and the jokes funny that I went with most of it. The production design for Barbieland and all the outfits its characters wear perfectly emulate the look of children’s toys, all shot beautifully by cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto. As someone who spent hours playing with toys, Barbie reminded me of those times.
Though it’s often funny, Barbie’s presentation of all men as insecure creeps who desperately need therapy and Earth as a place where women never win feels like the filmmakers venting. I felt uncomfortable watching this with the young girls in my theater, hoping they wouldn’t leave feeling the world despised them. It is PG-13 (so not for them anyway), but I would have appreciated it if they took it to full R-rated territory to fully exploit it. As well, the arc involving Ferrera and her daughter is well-acted but obscenely rushed and Barbie’s own arc of self-actualization feels shortchanged.
The film’s ultimate messages are that people should be whatever they want to be, that the world can be made better if we work hard enough, and that men can sometimes feel insecure, but the way it goes about saying those things will alienate some audiences (my disappointed sister included). You’ll either go full-speed with Barbie’s approach or gag out of one side of your mouth, but you’ll certainly never forget it.
Rated PG-13 for Suggestive References and Brief Language