Barbie unfurls like an improbable, reality-challenging amalgamation of The Lego Movie and Don’t Worry Darling. Stereotypical Barbie (a white, blonde, arresting Margot Robbie) enjoys her formulaic life of bubblegum colours, waterless showers, and plastic waves on a beach filled with himbo Kens. She takes part in a wonderfully choreographed dance number with other eminent Barbies, brought to life by Issa Rae, Emma Mackey, Hari Nef, Sharon Rooney, Dua Lipa and Nicola Coughlan.
This individual Barbie has a sudden thought, which she says aloud: ‘Do you guys ever think about dying?’ It kills the vibe immediately. For those of us burdened with a more existential disposition, this scene rings true. Stereotypical Barbie isn’t so stereotypical any more. She wakes up tired, the invisible shower water is cold, the milk goes off. Even worse: her feet have changed from upright, perfect for a high heel, to a flatter shape that repulses her friends.
Left to right: Ana Cruz Kayne as Barbie, Sharon Rooney as Barbie, Alexandra Shipp as Barbie, Margot Robbie as Barbie, Hari Nef as Barbie and Emma Mackey as Barbie. Photo: Warner Bros.
To rectify these changes, she seeks the hilariously contortional Weird Barbie (Kate McKinnon) who provides a Matrix-like ultimatum with shoes: stay in this womanly paradise or venture into the Real World and confront her human players. Despite some debate, Stereotypical Barbie is thrilled to experience the wonderful gender equality that Barbies have influenced across dimensions – specifically in Los Angeles.
The result is a fierce, entertaining reality check. Barbie is outraged by the catcalls, arse-slapping and misogynistic ignorance of human men. But her supporting Ken (a ripped, joke-fuelled Ryan Gosling) gallops at these patriarchal ideas.
Margot Robbie as Barbie and Ryan Gosling as Ken. Photo: Warner Bros.
‘This movie is like an amusement park,’ said Gosling in an interview with Reuters. ‘There's a different ride for everyone so I think everyone can have their own experience’. This universality of audience ripples through Barbie's script (penned by Gerwig and Noah Baumbach) as much as its diversity.
No surprise that a movie ostensibly for kids should smuggle in some adult jokes, but Barbie is even more daring – enough to earn a 12A certificate. Exhilarating as a feministic shout (‘It is literally impossible to be a woman’), the film also dismantles traditional masculinity via Ken’s distorted journey of manhood. So much is worthy of academic study.
However, challenging this philosophy of ‘everyone’: it's a little deflating that the wheelchair-user Barbie is only permitted around 30 seconds of screentime (a generous estimate) and that the Ken equivalent doesn’t seem to exist at all. Is she not strong or fabulous enough to be in the core team? Is he not considered masculine enough to deserve a live-action materialisation? As a disabled critic, the euphoria of seeing a disabled Barbie on-screen is vacuumed by her absence. ‘Everyone’ doesn’t quite mean everyone.
Issa Rae as Barbie. Photo: Warner Bros.
Despite this, Barbie is a shockingly fun time. Gerwig proves to be a devoted cinephile: opening with a brilliant homage to 2001: A Space Odyssey, illustrating the film-bro conversations around The Godfather, and joking about Zack Synder’s Justice League. The shapes and colours of Sarah Greenwood’s production design and Rodrigo Pietro’s cinematography even resemble the comic visual palette of Jacques Tati.
Gerwig doesn’t shy away from mocking Mattel, mapping its male-dominated boardrooms (led by Will Ferrell) and plunging into its problematic history. She coalesces the evolution of the company with the still-evolving structures of a society being shaken awake, while also making the funniest film of the year so far.
Barbie will be in UK cinemas on Friday 21 July.
|Barbie movie review
21 Jul 23 – 21 Jul 24, IN CINEMAS
|£ determined by cinemas
|Click here for more information