Well, it's finally here - but has it been worth the wait? Yes, yes it has...
Director: Greta Gerwig
Starring: Margot Robbie, Ryan Gosling, Issa Rae
Running time: 114 minutes
Ever since the initial trailer dropped for Greta Gerwig’s Barbie - delivering a preposterous parody of 2001: A Space Odyssey’s iconic opening scenes - pretty much everyone on the planet has been wondering, ‘What the hell is this film?’ So it’s slightly strange that, somehow, the Sacramentan auteur has produced everything you at least wanted this to be: A zany, colourful, absurd bout of fun that always offers something deeper, exploring concepts of feminism, belonging, and, well, life itself… through the lens of the mega-famous Mattel doll.
For Gerwig, the greatest challenge with this project was to genuinely justify the need for this Barbie story to, um, be about Barbie; to demonstrate that the name on the title card was actually essential for telling this tale, and not just an amusing marketing ploy to get the whole world talking. And she certainly does.
When the life of Margot Robbie’s ‘Stereotypical Barbie’ (the classic take on the doll that most people perhaps know best) is turned upside down, and her usually idyllic existence in Barbieland starts falling apart, she must head to the ‘Real World’ to find her human owner and find out exactly why things are heading south at such a rapid pace. It's a one-of-a-kind concept that provides a delicious dichotomy in attitudes and outlooks, which fuels the narrative and thematic challenges of the entire piece.
Through the most unlikely of sources - a plastic doll - there is a genuine deep-dive into what it means to belong, to be human
What follows is an unpredictable story that takes the viewer on a rollercoaster of human emotion. Sure, it’s an absolute delight at times, offering the outrageous, out-there humour that one would hope for based on this film’s bizarre premise. Ryan Gosling is ridiculously entertaining as Ken, whose mind is poisoned by concepts of toxic masculinity and the patriarchy once he follows Barbie into our world (concepts that produce amusing moments, but also poignant points). There are more enjoyable references and Easter eggs than you can shake a mink stole at. And there are silly set pieces centred around Michael Cera’s outcast Allen and his cold-blooded propensity for violence.
Yet, for all the jokes about ‘beaching off’ and sugar daddies, there is always something more going on here. Just like in Lady Bird and Little Women, Gerwig (alongside her co-writer/partner Noah Baumbach) explores heavy subjects with grace, subtlety and an accessibility that never drags things into areas of self-indulgence.
Through the most unlikely of sources - a plastic doll - there is a genuine deep-dive into what it means to belong, to be human, in this flawed and defective society. It’s so painfully effective that, by the time the film’s most emotional scene arrives in the final act, and Billie Eilish’s What Was I Made For? plays reflectively in the background, you’re filled with all of the feels. It’s truly beautiful, and would be in any context - but to do this through a vehicle that’s also packed with elaborate dance numbers, extravagantly bright and bold Barbie-inspired sets (shout out to the set and costume designers, who do God’s work throughout) and tickle-fights between corporate executives is a work of genius.
It’s ludicrous, and hilarious, and unique, but it’s also impactful, introspective, and will leave you questioning your very existence for the entire day after you leave the cinema
While this success is largely down to the talent of Gerwig, though (the Critics Choice Award-winner is becoming one of the defining cinematic voices of her generation, without a doubt), the effectiveness of Barbie would not be as, well, effective without the phenomenal central performance of Robbie. While everyone from Gosling as ‘Just Ken’ to Kate McKinnon as ‘Weird Barbie’, Simu Liu as Ken’s main rival to Issa Rae as ‘President Barbie’ are all worthy of praise, Robbie is given the toughest task of all - having to be simultaneously entertaining and emotional, larger-than-life and grounded and raw - and she smashes it at every turn. To wrap this thing up with a base-note take, an Oscar nod simply has to be on the cards.
So, yes, this much-anticipated release, which promised to be unlike anything you were expecting, is everything you’d hope it would be. It’s ludicrous, and hilarious, and unique, but it’s also impactful, introspective, and will leave you questioning your very existence for the entire day after you leave the cinema. It’s the big screen at its bloody best, and you’d be crazier than Weird Barbie if you let this one pass you by.
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