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Film Review: “Barbie”

by Art U News

By Kirsten Coachman

“Do you guys ever think about dying?”

It’s the record scratch heard around Barbie Land, as Barbie (Margot Robbie) asks her fellow Barbies a very non-stereotypical question amid their dreamhouse dance party.

The question sets up a wholly unexpected and intriguing concept from Writer/Director Greta Gerwig, who wrote the film with partner Noah Baumbach. What if Barbie’s dollness was somehow being affected by humanness? The result is a movie that is hilariously meta and camp while pulling at nostalgic heartstrings. 

Image courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures.

Barbie lives in Barbie Land, a feminist utopia where Barbies rule and Kens drool. The Barbies are confident and accomplished at their jobs—lawyer (Sharon Rooney), physicist (Emma Mackey), reporter (Rita Aryu), doctor (Hari Nef), and author (Alexandra Shipp)—and they support and celebrate one another. They have President Barbie (Issa Rae), a Pink House, and an all-Barbie Supreme Court.

And then there are the Kens. As the film’s narrator (Helen Mirren) explains, they merely exist to be seen by Barbie. And Ken (Ryan Gosling) wants nothing more than for Robbie’s Barbie to notice him as much as he notices her.

But when Barbie starts “malfunctioning” with thoughts of death, flat feet, and a patch of cellulite, Weird Barbie (Kate McKinnon) informs her that she has to go to The Real World and locate the girl who’s playing with her. Tagging along is Ken, who finds himself bombarded with male-centered imagery in The Real World and is very much here for it. Barbie deals with the rude awakening that she and the other Barbies didn’t quite impact The Real World as they thought they had.

Gerwig has a knack for telling stories that center on women who are in the midst of transitional moments in their lives. She successfully navigates the idea of Barbie being affected by The Real World onscreen as the doll narrowly avoids being contained in her box by the Mattel CEO (Will Ferrell) and raises questions surrounding her purpose. Gerwig manages to take a doll that’s both wildly beloved and controversial and make her relatable. 

When it comes to the actors, “Barbie” has a cast to remember. The role of Barbie is a perfect fit for Robbie, who shines in the film. There’s a mix of humor, heart, and vulnerability in her performance, and ultimately, Robbie’s strongest moments onscreen were opposite Rhea Perlman, who portrays Barbie inventor Ruth Handler. 

Gosling brings the Ken-ergy in a big way: he sings, he dances, he beaches. It’s an out-of-the-box performance from the actor, who genuinely seems to be having a ball with the role onscreen. Gosling might be just Ken, but he almost rollerblades away with the entire film. 

However, America Ferrera has the moment of the film. As Gloria, she delivers a stirring monologue about the complexities of being a woman. The scene led to a round of applause from the audience during the film’s screening.

Margot Robbie as Barbie in Warner Bros. Pictures’ “BARBIE,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release. Photo is courtesy Warner Bros. Pictures. © 2022 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Other standouts include Michael Cera (Allan), who had one of the best quips of the film, and Simu Liu (Ken), who gets under Ken’s skin with a mere, “Hi Barbie!” Admittedly, it would have been nice to see more of Midge—though the narrator mentions that the pregnant doll was discontinued, it seems like a waste of Emerald Fennell.

Perhaps the most joyous part of “Barbie” was the incredible production design of Sarah Greenwood. The cotton candy-colored Barbie Land is meticulously detailed. We can see right into Barbie’s dreamhouse—complete with a slide from her bedroom to the pool. Her closet is set up to feature her daily outfit and accessories, which are displayed as if they were packaged. Her kitchen fridge opens to reveal a picture of food, just as the toy dreamhouse would, along with a plastic carton of milk and plastic food. A favorite moment was how the ambulance that comes to help Ken on the beach unfolds into an emergency room, like a mobile playset. All these little touches felt like a special homage to not just the doll but to the kids that grew up playing Barbie. 

And really, that’s what you want from a film like “Barbie.” To be able to relive cherished memories through a story that’s grounded in fun and humor but also can reflect the emotions we all recognize and have experienced on some level. It might not be the film that audiences were expecting, but it may just be the one that we all need.

“Barbie” is now playing in theaters.

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