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Barbie (2023) Review: Modern Feminist Parody!

Margot Robbie as Barbie smiling at her reflection in an empty mirror in a scene from the movie.

Is Greta Gerwig’s Barbie movie truly a groundbreaking masterpiece or just a flashy marketing ploy? Explore the depths of this worldwide sensation as it finally hits theaters and seeks to meet sky-high expectations!

Barbie, in fact, is just what the fervent fans raving about the Barbie Selfie Creator and red carpet outfits have been longing for. Gerwig transforms Barbieland into a magnificent and blush-pink reality, complete with dream-like houses and flawless fashion sensibility – of course, with the help of an army of incredible craftsmen. Margot Robbie and Ryan Gosling skillfully embody Barbie and Ken, capturing not only the iconic duo’s physical perfection but also bringing their inherent childlike whimsy to the screen.

Moreover, the film is sprinkled with absurd humor centered around how children play with Barbie and the abundance of connections to Mattel. The intricately woven plot hidden carefully in trailers, clips, promotional videos, and music videos, along with rosy-coated yet starkly realistic messages, might leave many baffled.

What is the Plot of the Barbie Movie?

Penned by Gerwig and Noah Baumbach, the film opens with a comical scene that parodies 2001: A Space Odyssey. In sepia tones, amidst a desert, young girls nonchalantly play with their dolls, only for Barbie to emerge like a magnificent monument, leading to ecstatic children tearing their dolls apart. This brief intro conveys the message that Barbie is an icon inspiring young girls and solving all issues of sexism – at least as far as the inhabitants of Barbieland, a utopia led by women, know.

Margot Robbie as Barbie and Ryan Gosling as Ken sharing a tender gaze of affection in a scene from the movie Barbie.

In Barbieland, Barbies can be anything they desire: doctors, lawyers, construction workers, Pulitzer Prize winners, even presidents. The days commence with a splendid night’s sleep followed by a mesmerizing wardrobe change and a charming morning routine featuring heart-shaped waffles. Every day is perfect for the Barbies. Nights are filled with grand dance parties and conclude with a “girls’ night.” Naturally, Kens are excluded from these girls’ nights. While Barbies do everything and anything, Kens are relegated to the “beach.”

Do you guys ever think about dying?

However, beneath this veneer of perfection, Stereotypical Barbie (Robbie), in the midst of a choreographed group dance, suddenly interjects, “Have you ever considered mortality?”

Suddenly, Barbie’s slumber is no longer as serene. Her breakfast burns, and her perfectly arched feet flatten. Seeking advice from “Oddball Barbie” (Kate McKinnon), Barbie learns that the girl playing with her in the Real World is going through some kind of crisis, and she needs to go there and help her. Whether Barbie likes it or not, Ken (Ryan Gosling) accompanies her on this journey to the Real World.

Navigating Barbie’s Complex Symbolism

Barbie has long been both a promise and a snare for women. On one hand, it tells little girls they can be anything they dream of; on the other, it embodies an unrealistic beauty standard, an immense wardrobe, and the ability to be absolutely anything, representing a standard we can never truly attain. Moreover, Barbie’s world is free from the confines of engrained biases. Hence, what adorns young girls’ dreams as Barbie becomes a theme that fuels their anger as they grow.

Margot Robbie as Barbie displaying her flat feet while women beside her gaze in astonishment, scene from the movie.

Ideally, the Barbie movie takes on much of these issues. Barbieland, where Barbies of all races and body types reside, is profoundly inclusive. But Barbie isn’t just another production sprinkling token representatives of various races for the sake of inclusivity; here, a myriad of characters, including Barbie with wheelchairs and prosthetic limbs, and even Doctor Barbie portrayed by trans actor/model Hari Nef, coexist harmoniously. Witnessing these women work happily together, unthreatened in their fundamental rights, thriving in a utopian life where all is pleasing to the eye, is truly captivating.

However, when Barbie visits the Real World, she encounters catcalls on the streets, experiences sexual harassment, and is subjected to misogynistic remarks from boomer businessmen in Mattel’s boardroom. From this point on, the film directly confronts issues of sexism and patriarchy. While the dialogue on these subjects ranges from humor to harsh critique, the film as a whole exudes a “Feminism 101” vibe. It seems that Gerwig’s true focus with Barbie lies in using this toy, both a blessing and a curse, to amplify the voices of girls and women who face gender-based impositions and discrimination.

Depending on the lens, Barbie is either a symbol of outdated and unjust standards imprisoning women or a radiant embodiment of the potential women possess, given a chance to shine. This conflict not only propels the plot and fuels Barbie’s identity crisis but also allows for a political paradox to emerge within this grand-budget, glossy studio film.

We often assume that films based on toys are crafted solely for commercial gains. Considering that Barbie-mania has swept the globe with a plethora of related products, it’s challenging to argue that Barbie herself is exempt. Surprisingly, however, Gerwig weaves a narrative around the adverse effects of consumerism and the issues surrounding Barbie. A politically conscious young girl (Ariana Greenblatt) voices concerns about the doll, resonating with many Barbie skeptics. In a broader context, the film challenges the notion of our possessions defining us. Even within the realm of Barbieland, excessive consumerism and material obsession are questioned, a radical approach for a toy-inspired movie.

Musical Magic and Captivating Performances

Greta Gerwig has repeatedly emphasized her inspiration from classic Hollywood musicals for Barbie. The meticulously hand-painted backgrounds of Barbieland, the 2001 parody, the nod to The Wizard of Oz with the pink-brick road, and the elaborate dance sequences all clearly showcase these musical influences. Nonetheless, Barbie’s tone, favoring a high-energy satirical approach, is distinctly modern. In simple terms, Barbie is meticulously crafted, remarkably bold politically for a studio film, and undoubtedly uproariously funny.

Margot Robbie as Barbie, sporting a cowboy hat, raising her hands with a joyful smile, scene from the movie.

Yet, without Robbie and Gosling who wholly grasp and embrace Gerwig’s blend of classic and contemporary, the film wouldn’t capture this essence. Undoubtedly, Robbie looks every bit a true Barbie both on-screen and on the red carpet. However, her character carries more depth than the exuberance and cheerfulness seen in the trailers. Amid an existential crisis, while Barbie’s mind is plagued with doubt and worry, she combats societal pressures. Robbie brilliantly mirrors this with a glowing yet trembling smile accompanied by tears.

As Barbie struggles to express herself when words fall short, Gerwig’s sensational film score becomes the conduit for the character’s emotions. Tracks by Dua Lipa, Billie Eilish, and Lizzo provide an emotive and entertaining rendition, while Ken himself joins in on the singing a few times. In the amusing song “I’m Just Ken,” Ken and all his counterparts offer a full-fledged musical spectacle, while at another instance, he picks up a guitar to elicit laughter from the audience.

Barbie presents a parody of an arrogant man by Will Ferrell, President Barbie is portrayed by Issa Rae, America Ferrera shines as Barbie’s passionate human ally, and Michael Cera nails the role of the hysterical Allan. Gosling unquestionably infuses the production with energy, slipping into a charming rascally mode we haven’t seen since The Nice Guys. In doing so, he perfectly complements Robbie’s unraveling Barbie.

Gerwig’s Remarkable Transformation of Barbie

In conclusion, Gerwig deserves applause for delivering a bold and remarkable feat. She’s taken something that could easily be a flimsy excuse to sell toys and transformed it into a massive message about gender politics, consumer culture, and radical self-love. Her incredible team has constructed a dream world so believably real that you can almost feel yourself strutting on pink plastic floors and opening the array of vibrant doors. The cast has embraced her vision and wholly surrendered to the film. This amalgamation has resulted in a production that is deeper and more unexpected than anticipated – a memorable revelation.

The film is worth watching on the big screen to fully appreciate the incredible craftsmanship both in front of and behind the camera.

In short, Barbie is a masterpiece. Don’t miss it.

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Last modified: September 24, 2023