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  • Writer's picturePerrin Faerch

Review: Barbie (2023)

Updated: Jul 28, 2023

Barbie fever is in full tilt. It’s not just among those who grew up playing with and idolizing their favourite figurine who are excited, but also the film community thanks to Greta Gerwig’s (Ladybird, Little Women) role as both director and co-writer (written with her own Ken in Noah Baumbach, the man behind Marriage Story, Frances Ha, Noah & the Whale, etc.). Add that with the spectacular and unintentional free marketing that spawned out of both Barbie and Christopher Nolan’s Oppenheimer releasing on the same day, then you’ve got a recipe for something potentially special. Warner Bros. releasing Barbie on the same day was apparently intended to spite Nolan, a filmmaker who dropped them in favour of Universal to make Oppenheimer. And so Barbenheimer was born. Gerwig vs. Nolan, Cyllian Murphy vs. Margot Robbie, Ken vs. Strauss, Light vs. Dark, Pink vs. Black, Barbieland vs. Los Alamos. Who wins? Well, we all do, of course. The cinematic experience is alive and well and thanks to the addition of Mission Impossible’s latest (and also jawdropping) spectacle in Dead Reckoning: Part One, it’s a particularly exciting time to be a cinemagoer - one that feels like the FIFA World Cup final is on all month, a never-ending superbowl half-time show catered to those who live for the cinema experience.

Whenever I start writing reviews, I get into my head about what I’m writing. If it’s informative or even just interesting enough. But then I remember it’s all about how the film made ME feel. How was my own experience with the material presented to me instead of just listing things that are filled with nothing but basic facts. After all, movies are designed to make you feel something and challenge your perspective. Very rarely do films do none of those things, including the goofy popcorn movies and even the ones that are just downright terrible. At the end of the day, each film will always have a perspective, an intention, a message or even a question it wants to pose in order to open your eyes to something you have yet to comprehend or even amplify ideas and thoughts you already knew to be true. Sometimes people misinterpret the intentions of the author’s message, but the most effective experiences are the ones where filmmakers do just that: challenge your perspective and allow the conversation to flourish. Gerwig’s understanding of what Barbie means to her may ring true for most people, but it’s the way with which she delivers that message is what makes Barbie a wholly unique experience, especially in stark contrast to the IP presented here. The results allow Barbie to be an incredibly self-aware movie that leans into the weird, hilarious, wholesome, smart and incredibly touching movie it wants to be - one that may surprise most viewers, but to those of us who are fans of the talent in front of and behind the camera, it’s no surprise at all. Told you so.

Blah blah blah enough already, let’s talk about Barbie. So, what’s the story about then? Without giving too much away that would spoil the surprise of the plot that is hidden so well in the trailers through a few Red Herrings (something that misleads the audience from what the true plot may be), Barbie has Barbie (Margot Robbie, obviously) suddenly going through an existential crisis (“Do any of you think of dying?”), something that does not go over well in Barbie Land, causing her normally perfect days and demeanor to hit a funk that is completely new to her (“FLAT FEEEET!”). After consulting Weird Barbie (Kate McKinnon playing, well, the Barbie you’d play with too hard that would eventually set her apart from your nicer Barbies), she goes on a quest to the human world to try understand the how’s, who’s, and why’s of her changes in order to not only save herself but Barbie Land as well. Oh and Ken (Ryan Gosling) is there too with his neon rollerblades for good measure.

Once Barbie (and Ken) arrive in the real, or, human world, they realize how very different everything is. Instead of Barbies ruling the world, men do. And instead of friendly waves and smiles, they’re met with a mixture of hostility and admiration, something which feels good and favourable to Ken, but invasive and icky for Barbie as men gawk and harass her. It’s an immediate shock to the senses for not only them but us as well. We are taken out of this beautiful, perfect little bubble where everything is perfect all the time, now and forever, to a seemingly colourless, messy reality that reminds us just how scary and weird the world can be once we step outside our comfort zone.

This is where Greta Gerwig and co-writer in Noah Baumbach cleverly split and differentiate both Ken and Barbie’s experiences according to their genders. Although their encounter with how different the world is for both men and women seems like an obvious plot choice, but they allow for them to encounter it differently so that the themes in Barbie to truly come alive. While Barbie is constantly being hit with moments of ugly truth “Women hate women and men hate women”, Ken is having revelations of his own. “A woman asked me for the time!”. For the first time ever, he’s getting the slightest bit of interest from people that he never really got from Barbie. He starts to see just how much men rule the world and how much easier it is to be a man here - the power that they hold. Both their worlds are imperfect but both worlds are better suited to perfection depending on whether you’re Barbie or Ken. In Barbie Land, Woman hold the power, in the human world, men do. Barbie’s grasp on her existence and purpose starts slipping while Ken begins to embrace the appeal of patriarchy and the toxic masculinity that comes along with it. “You set the woman’s rights movement back 50 years”, these words sting Barbie as the young girl she thought was the answer to her problems puts into perspective what Barbie has unfortunately meant to some people. With all the potential good Barbie has done in terms of empowering young ladies to strive to be the Barbies in their toybox and of their dreams, Gerwig also doesn’t shy away from the potential harm that Barbie has done in terms of reflecting the image of what perfection is supposed to look like to these young ladies.

Greta Gerwig loves a good coming-of-age story. Not just in her directorial works with Ladybird and Little Women, but also in her starring roles in films like Frances Ha (co-written with and directed by her partner Noah Baumbach) and Mike Mills’ Twentieth Century Women. Traditionally, coming-of-age tales would follow younger protagonists as they come of age, going from youth to adulthood. But lately, we are seeing more stories about people in their adult years finally coming of age and figuring out who they are and what they want to be through their own divine purpose. It just feels so appropriate to place Barbie within one of these stories: a character, an idea that is intended not to have an ending, to finally figure out who she is instead of being labeled as what she is intended (and in some cases, marketed) to be: Stereotypical Barbie (“When you think of Barbie, you think of me!”). It’s not just a coming-of-age story for her, but for Ken as well. They both have no idea of who or what they’re actually meant to be other than what they’re designated as on the box (Ken does beach). And this allows Gerwig to confront the imperfections in their perfection. It allows us to look at the labels we have been designated in our own lives and once we let go of the labels we feel we have to adhere to, only then can we truly be free from the weight of expectations we so unfairly place upon ourselves. It’s a tale about growing up, and realizing that your world is much bigger than what you think it is. That you can’t always be perfect, you can’t always be tough, that it’s ok to not know what’s happening all the time, that it’s ok to show vulnerability in front of the other cooler Kens and in Barbie’s case, it’s OK to be human.

It’s surprising but particularly hilarious at how it looks at incel culture as well, one that is bound to draw moans from said-incels about how anti-men and woke a movie about a girl’s doll is. **POTENTIAL SPOILERS This is also what makes the casting of Ken and his submersion into toxic masculinity that much more of a homerun in casting. There’s a meme that floats around where men have “Ohmygod he’s literally me” reactions to protagonists in various movies, basing their skewed delusions of grandeur on characters where they appear to miss the point entirely. The Joker, Tommy Shelby, Tyler Durden and well, the Driver in Drive who is played by none other than Ryan Gosling (just to name a few). “Ohmygod he’s literally me” should be the only reaction when Ken undergoes his own sense of enlightenment and realization that his newfound toxic behaviour isn’t actually doing him any good and that he needs to ditch it in order to grow up and become the Ken we know he can become. POTENTIAL SPOILERS**.Greta Gerwig doesn’t hate men. The complete opposite really. She sees as much potential in Ken as she does in Barbie. It's a film that does a resounding job in showing how both complete patriarchies AND matriarchies are harmful to everyone involved.

From the hilarious shot-for-shot recreation of 2001: A Space Odyssey in its opening credits (which was the first teaser released), to jokes referencing The Matrix, The Shining, The Godfather and even the amended Zach Snyder cut of The Justice League (incels once again will lose their shit here. If they ever see the movie that is), Gerwig loves to have fun in this sandbox of hers, drawing on her own unique cinematic voice in paying homage to her influences scattered about through the colourful production design (which caused a worldwide shortage in pink paint), lifesize recreations of iconic Barbie outfits, shots and even character beats. It genuinely feels like it’s a cinephile’s take on Barbie (sorry that sounds so corny, but it’s true). With her clearly evident love, appreciation and knowledge of the medium, she is able to elevate Barbie from being a standard silly, popcorn movie into something so much more. She understood the assignment and thanks to the cast and crew surrounding her, Barbie’s ability to transition between silly and profound is seamless.

Ryan Gosling has stated that Barbie is the best script he’s ever read and it’s with that same enthusiasm, we feel it across the board from everyone involved, particularly the cast who appear to be having so much fun with the absurdity of it all. And that’s the strength of Gerwig as an actor’s director, she is able to instill that sense of passion and understanding of her text to her cast and crew so effectively. The results are right there on the screen as her vision encourages a collage of creativity from each department that allows for her vision to come to life. Margot Robbie is perfectly cast as Barbie, not just because of her stereotypically Barbie features (she is playing stereotypical Barbie after all), but she has the ability to go from silly, goofy fun to nuanced emotion at the drop of a hat. Gosling is offered the freedom to go full silly (more on that later) for a large majority of the film, but it’s Robbie who has to carry the weight of the film’s themes of identity, life, death, perfectionism, imperfections and growing up fully on her shoulders. People often disregard such comedies in terms of performance, but it’s often the hardest to pull off because of the sheer jumps over emotional caverns performers have to make. Ryan Gosling not only has the rare talent that allows him to be one of the best dramatic actors in the game, but also one of the best comedic actors. His comedic timing is always on point, whether it be starring opposite Steve Carell in Crazy, Stupid, Love (2011), the iconic Papyrus SNL skit or stealing the show in the severely underrated The Nice Guys (2016). He’s genuinely hysterical here, fully leaning into what Ken is supposed to be, oftentimes an afterthought for toy giants Mattel as well as someone who is just so desperate to be appreciated and accepted by Barbie as her boyfriend. As said before, Gosling is allowed to run completely wild with the performance that doesn’t have him losing sight of both the ridiculousness of the film but also his eventual profound realization of who he was, is, and can be. It’s endlessly quotable and quite simply, an unforgettable showcase of Gosling’s instinct as a performer. Whoever thought Gosling was too old for the role can eat their shoes, because no one could’ve delivered a comical performance of this depth quite like Gosling. Ohmygod he’s literally me.

It genuinely warms my heart to see how much people have responded to the double feature that is Barbenheimer. Not only did Greta Gerwig’s reputation as one of the best filmmakers today help pull in the cinephiles, but the relentless memes of it paired with Oppenheimer has really lured audiences of all shapes, colours and sizes out in full to experience what feels like a once-in-a-lifetime cinematic event. I saw Barbie at a pre-screening on Thursday and then Oppenheimer the following day at 3:45. The amount of pink and black I saw working in tandem together made me so happy. This is what going to the movies should feel like, a true event that will have you talking about it for years to come. Kudos to the cast and crew of both films as well as those over at Mission Impossible for not competing in petty competition with one another, but instead, walking arm in arm to the theatre together as they rightfully gush over and support each other’s work - encouraging everyone to do the same.

Barbie is just one of the great movie events of the year (Mission Impossible, Oppenheimer, Dune, Killers of the Flower Moon. Good Lord this year is stacked). It’s a self-aware, fun, wholesome, hilarious and touching candy-coloured existential crisis that only someone like Greta Gerwig could bring both arthouse and commercial crowds together so seamlessly with themes that are universally relatable. It lifts the veil of perfectionism that plagues our everyday lives. Anyone and everyone can be Barbie. We can’t all be perfect, and that’s ok, just remember that you’re simply Kenough.

Where you can watch it: In Theatres (Worldwide).

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