The Barbie movie is everything you thought a Barbie movie would be. It is also everything you NEVER thought a Barbie movie could be.
Believe it or not, director Greta Gerwig (Lady Bird, Little Women) has arguably come up with almost the perfect Barbie movie – instead of turning it into a two-hour long toy commercial, she has chosen to make a movie that is just as much about what the IDEA of Barbie means, as much as it is about the doll itself. It’s an approach that pays tribute to all the things people love about Barbie, but is also not afraid to talk about the darker and more controversial sides of the toy line.
Of course, it helps when your two lead characters are played to plastic perfection by two actors at the peak of their powers – Margot Robbie and Ryan Gosling.
The movie begins in Barbieland, a land full of Barbies and Kens. Here, Barbie can be anything – a president, a doctor, a mermaid, an author... you name it, a Barbie can do it (Meanwhile, Ken can just Ken, which can be uncanny when there are so many Kens).
Robbie’s Barbie is Stereotypical Barbie, the quintessential, perfect, blonde bombshell version of the doll, who lives in her perfect Dream House, from which she floats down into her perfect pink car, and does nothing but be perfect all day.
Gosling plays Ken, or rather, a Ken who “only has a great day if Barbie looks at him”. He gets jealous when Ken (Simu Liu) and other Kens look at her, which they can, because they are all Kens.
Then on one not so perfect day, Barbie starts to change. It begins with her thinking about death, then in the morning, nothing seems perfect anymore – instead of her perfect tiptoes, her feet are now fully on the ground, she can no longer ignore the laws of gravity and float down to her car, and... she has cellulite on her thighs. (The horror!)
After a quick chat with Weird Barbie (Kate McKinnon), Barbie finds out she needs to head to the Real World to confront the human playing with her (who apparently is causing her existential crisis). However, once she gets there, she finds out that the Real World isn’t what she thought it would be, especially for women.
At the same time, Ken, who had tagged along with Barbie, discovers that Kens (or rather, Men) rule the Real World, and decides to bring Patriarchy back to Barbieland...
For a movie about a line of toy dolls, Barbie is surprisingly complex. Barbie and Ken's very different reactions to the contrasts between Barbieland’s perfect pink plastic paradise and the harsh realities of the Real World makes for a thought-provoking story that is irreverent yet extremely relevant.
It is funny, emotional, weird, silly, serious, meta, kiddy, adult, and nostalgic at the same time. It’s based on a kid’s toy line, but the ideas are very adult. But that’s the beauty of Barbie (the toy) – it can be all this and more, and Barbie (the movie) embraces ALL OF IT.
It says a lot about Robbie and Gosling’s performances that they have already been name checked for Best Actor Oscars already. At first Robbie’s Barbie is everything, while Gosling can really Ken, But as the revelations pile up and the problems mount for Barbieland, they bring out aspects of Barbie and Ken you never expect, dishing out comedic performances with an undertone of emotion and anxiety that are more than you'd expect from ‘just dolls’.
There’s only one thing I was unsure of about this movie – whether or not I would bring my daughter to watch it. Some of the messages and lessons that the movie touches upon are too important for her NOT to watch it, but the movie has a P13 rating in Malaysia, which is perhaps for the best, considering how grown-up some of the themes and lines are in the movie. But how do you tell a girl who has been playing with Barbie dolls all her life that she can’t watch a movie that is literally about Barbie?
But make no mistake about it, alongside its ‘Barbenheimer’ companion piece Oppenheimer, Barbie is one of the best movies of the year. And who knows, it might even persuade you to go out and buy a Barbie doll or two when it’s over.
This life in plastic is really fantastic