'Barbie' Movie Review: A Subversive and Hilarious Comedy

Simu Liu, Margot Robbie and Ryan Gosling in Barbie movie review

As expected, Greta Gerwig’s (LADYBIRD) live-action BARBIE movie is filled with subversive feminist messaging but Gerwig balances the truth bombs with comedy.  Margot Robbie is a perfect Barbie and Ryan Gosling steals the show with his himbo Ken-energy. Gerwig also manages to honor the Mattel icon without belittling the brand and empowers little girls to want more than just tea parties. 

Barbie’s world comes to life in Barbieland where all the Kens and Barbies frolic around without a care in their pink world. That is, until Barbie has a moment of crisis, and she must travel to the human world to discover the cause of her distress.

I had my doubts about a Barbie adaptation. While Mattel has advanced its line of dolls from mere objects of beauty in swimsuits to career-oriented dolls, how do you tell a story about a doll that has no real purpose other than to entertain little girls? Gerwig and her frequent collaborator and co-writer Noah Baumbach figured it out.

The diverse Barbies come in all shapes and sizes and the women celebrate each other and have no room to entertain the Kens. Gosling’s Ken, however pines for Robbie’s Barbie, and Simu Liu’s Ken is his competition.

Gerwig accurately captures the spirit of both Barbie and Ken in this fictional world created for the big screen. For as long as the Ken doll has existed, Barbie’s companion has only served as an accessory to the Barbie dolls. Barbie in the meantime, has always been the focus of little girls around the world. The grown-ups will have quite a laugh with the portrayal but the references may go over the young crowd.

Robbie plays Barbie as a naive and innocent yet determined woman who knows what she wants and doesn’t waver on her ideals especially when it comes to Gosling’s Ken. The actress is endearing and perfect. Robbie continues to surprise as an actress by switching up her performances. Barbie is the complete opposite of Harley Quinn, and only Robbie can pull off playing both types.

Ryan Gosling (and his 6-pack abs) is a scene-stealing genius. The actor Ken is a clueless hunk who seeks Barbie’s attention and approval at every turn. Even when Ken is being bad, he’s a lovable character. If anyone is objectified in the BARBIE movie, it’s Gosling’s Ken whose well-defined six-pack is on display for most of the movie. The abs are an exact match to the doll which were either achieved through CGI to enhance his physique or make-up to define his pictorial muscles because no amount of exercise could do that.

Another fun aspect of the BARBIE movie is the history of the Mattel dolls. Mattel toys have existed for 78 years, and along the way, the company had a few misfires which Gerwig included in the comedy like Michael Cera’s Allan character. There are a few other discontinued dolls that pop up and viewers get a good laugh out of it. 

Barbieland's production design is an overload of pink, but it captures the dollhouse vibe to perfection. When Barbie ends up in the real world, you hope to get back to that fanciful place.  

The Barbie movie will also guilt those who turned on their Barbies and disfigured them. As someone who dismembered her sister's Barbies, I was certainly remorseful after watching this movie. Barbie dolls were of no interest to me since I was obsessed with kick-ass ladies such as the Farah Fawcett, Bionic Woman, and Wonder Woman dolls. Barbie seemed useless but after watching BARBIE the movie, I’m now a fan of the cinematic version.

Most of the time, the feminist messaging is subversive but at one point it's laid on thick in a monologue by America Ferrera's character, Gloria. Gloria rants about how women are perceived and treated in the human world. While Gloria drop some truth bombs that women can relate to, it killed the fun nature of the comedy by bringing up real-world problems. Luckily the buzzkill wasn’t dragged on when the action kicked up again when the Barbies team up to save Barbieland from the men. While it delivers some hilarious scenarios that had me belly laughing, I can imagine insecure men will not enjoy the third act.

Gerwig is an indie darling, and the BARBIE movie plays more like one of her niche films rather than the blockbuster treatment the film has been receiving. Not everyone will like the feminist messaging especially those who are threatened by traditional gender roles. While the humor is very adult, there's plenty for the little girl with empowering examples of what women are capable of beyond societal norms. 

BARBIE is in movie theaters on Friday, July 14.

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