Reviewing Barbie has turned out to be an incredibly difficult challenge. Why? Because much like Barbie herself, Barbie is everything.
Greta Gerwig (alongside co-writer Noah Baumbach) has somehow managed to blend wit, vulnerability, challenges of motherhood, gender politics, mermaids, horses and hand-holding CEOs (with a healthy dash of consumerism) into one of the most fun, charming, silly and endearing films of the last decade. It was clear from Ladybird and Little Women that Gerwig does not find herself interested in ‘perfect’ women, instead delighting in the messy chaos that it is to be a young woman in this world and we see this again as she takes on the mammoth task of deconstructing the perfect woman for the big screen.
Margot Robbie is perfectly cast as the titular Barbie, ‘Stereotypical Barbie’, who finds herself somehow falling apart and is tasked by Weird Barbie (Kate McKinnon doing what she does best, as well as a lot of splits) to go to the real world and connect with her owner before the rift between Barbieland and the real world becomes permanent.
Alongside Barbie is her perfect accessory, Ryan Gosling’s Ken. It feels almost wrong to say that a Ken could be the best part of Barbie, but in this case, it could be true. Ryan Gosling IS Ken. In a sublime performance, he devours every line, demanding the camera’s eye. It feels like the part he was born to play, and he is clearly having the time of his life. A shout out to his fellow Ken, Kingsley Ben-Adir, playing the perfect accessory to an accessory, who you can’t help but want to spend more time with. Ken might just be a fairly useless accessory to most Barbie owners, but Gerwig and Baumbach have crafted the Kens with just as much care and love. Even if their job is just beach.
The script is a work of comic genius. The performances are committed and pitch-perfect. But the thing that pushes Barbie into cinematic perfection is the physical craft. Sarah Greenwood is responsible for this production design, bringing to life 60 years of little girls imaginations into a physical and tactile world that feels modern but timeless and pays perfect homage to the toys the film is based on. Her eye for detail deserves multiple rewatches as every shot is filled with small intricate nods to the history of Barbie and the creativity of everyone that came before her. Making the sets physical, down to cardboard backdrops, makes it almost as if we ourselves could be directing the action, posing these dolls and having our own adventures with them in this magical world. Dedicated artistry and physical set design haven’t been seen on this level since the creation of a real Bedrock for 1994’s The Flintstones.
Barbie made me laugh. And laugh. Out loud, a lot. It is one of the silliest films I’ve ever seen. But alongside puns and clever gags (and a couple of musical numbers reminiscent of a Gene Kelly picture), Gerwig shows us that the joys in life are not in the perfection, but in the messy, confusing and oft overwhelming moments that irrevocably change us. After 64 years, Barbara Millicent Roberts is still teaching me I can be anything. Consider me a Barbie girl for life.
Where to Watch
Ex film teacher and frequent couch potato. I try and see at least one new release a week, but I’ve somehow got to 30 without having seen The Godfather?