Just like life in plastic, the Barbie movie is fantastic.
There were two widely asked questions leading up to the release of this hilarious and heartfelt take on the beloved Mattel property. The first was: what even is this movie about? Earlier punts at developing a movie based on the titular doll from writers including comedienne Amy Schumer and Juno writer Diablo Cody suggested wildly different creative directions, at least based on what each respective artist has created before.
The version we get here from Greta Gerwig (Lady Bird, Little Women) is one in which the storytelling details are best preserved for the viewer to discover themselves, as we follow Barbie (Margot Robbie) go on an incredibly rich introspective arc of her character and purpose across both the utopian Barbie World and the decidedly not-utopian real world. It’s a story with a simple narrative drive that manages to cover a ton of thematic space, examining contemporary ideas around gender roles in exceptionally funny yet incisive ways. It was a given that this feature would be a victory for inclusive representation, but the extent to which it finds meaning in its portrayal of girlhood and womanhood is truly incredible.
The second question was: will this film live up to the hype? A seemingly endless – and endlessly charming – marketing campaign cannot prepare the viewer for the intensely eccentric, socially relevant ride that Barbie and Ken (centrally played by Ryan Gosling in one of the best performances of his whole career) take us on, utilising slapstick comedy, surrealism, classically inspired song-and-dance sequences, and at least one all-timer of a monologue delivered by the great America Ferrera. Gerwig’s bag of influences range from The Red Shoes to the films of Jacques Demi, and it’s heartening to see that Warner Bros let her run wild with her imagination whilst taking care of mass-market requirements at the same time.
If there’s anything to knock about Barbie, it’s that it has such a wealth of players in its crowded cast and some of them just do not get a major moment, notably the next Doctor Who Ncuti Gatwa, Industry breakout Marisa Abela and rising star Hannah Khalique-Brown. But with the well-founded knowledge that they’d be participating in a cultural phenomenon, any actor would have loved to participate in even a single frame of Barbie.
Barbie is released nationwide on 21st July 2023.
Watch the trailer for Barbie here: