Barbie Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Greta Gerwig
Stars: Margot Robbie, Ryan Gosling, Will Ferrell, Kate McKinnon, America Ferrera, Ariana Greenblatt, Rhea Perlman, John Cena, Rob Brydon, Issa Rae, Michael Cera, Helen Mirren, Alexandra Schipp, Emma Mackey, Hari Nef, Sharon Rooney, Lucy Boynton, Scott Evans, Kingsley Ben-Adir, Connor Swindells, Ann Roth.
Pretty in pink?
This is the first live action film based on the range of Barbie doll characters created by the Mattel Toy Company way back in 1959, but it is not what you might think. And it is not a film for younger children. As scripted by director Greta Gerwig (Little Women, etc) and frequent collaborator Noah Baumbach (Frances Ha, etc) this is a subversive and satirical take that delivers a strong feminist message as well as a critique of gender roles, societal expectations, the patriarchal nature of contemporary society, corporate culture, greed and business ethics. The film also seems to skewer the Mattel brand. It’s obvious from an early sequence, which is a clever send up of the classic opening to 2001: A Space Odyssey, that this Barbie is not going to be a straightforward film.
Stereotypical Barbie (played here by a well-cast Margot Robbie) lives in her perfect world of Barbie Land, a colourful artificlal world where every day follows the same routine. Females dominate here and hold most of the positions of power while the male Ken characters are happily subservient and fill their days relaxing by the beach. But then things do not go quite as smoothly – Barbie no longer floats down from her balcony to lan in her car, her toast is burned, and she has (gasp) sudden thoughts about death. To resolve her sudden existential crisis Barbie follows the advice of the disfigured weird Barbie (Kate McKinnon) and heads out to the real world to find her owner who has been playing with her and has somehow been infusing her with these dark thoughts.
She is accompanied by her best friend and constant companion Beach Ken (a seriously buffed and bleached blonde Ryan Gosling). In the real world though Barbie and Ken discover that men hold most of the important roles and she learns that it is a cruel and unfriendly place. Barbie discovers that Gloria (America Ferrera), a Mattel employee, is the catalyst of her crisis. Gloria is the mother of disgruntled tween Sasha (Ariana Greenblatt) who has stopped playing with her Barbie years ago no longer believing in her unrealistic and shallow ideas of beauty.
Inspired by what he witnessed in the real world Ken returns to Barbie Land determined to convince the other Kens to help overthrow the old ways and install a patriarchal society. Barbie has to find a way to return to Barbie Land and restore order.
Meanwhile the buffoonish CEO of the Mattel Toy Company (Will Ferrell) learns that a Barbie has made its way into the real world and, accompanied by his board, sets out to capture her and put her back in her box.
Robbie is perfectly cast as Barbie and she makes the character’s transition from empty vacuous blonde to a more human and aware character believable. Gosling is perfectly cast as the himbo Ken, who is only happy when he is with Barbie and he seems to be having a blast here. McKinnon injects plenty of energy into her role as the eccentric weird Barbie, while Ferrell brings his usual unhinged and manic style to his role. Rhea Perlman brings a touch of empathy to her appearance as Ruth Handler, the woman who created Barbie, while Helen Mirren lends gravitas to her role as the narrator. Gerwig has also made some interesting casting choices with some of the peripheral Ken characters having them played by the likes of John Cena and Rob Brydon. Michael Cera also appears as Allan, a doll who was developed in 1964 as Ken’s best friend.
Barbie is a visually dazzling film that features some superb candy coloured set design and production design from Sarah Greenwood and Kate Spencer that creates a wonderfully post modernistic aesthetic for Barbie Land with its see through houses, its deliberately artificial structure and its overuse of the colour pink. Costume designer Jacqueline Durran has crafted some wonderful costumes for both the myriad Barbies and Ken dolls that inhabit this world. The film has been nicely shot by cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto (Brokeback Mountain, etc) who aims for a heightened look reminiscent of the 50s. He creates a distinct contrast between the artificial look of Barbie Land and the grittier reality of modern LA. Barbie is a treat and unexpectedly more enjoyable than one would have anticipated, and has been the subject of one of the most memorable promotional campaigns of recent memory pairing it with Oppenheimer, the other major cinematic release of the week. Both films have done record business at the box office as a result of the “Barbenheimer” phenomenon.