Barbie has been bombarded with opinions ever since its announcement. During the initial development of the film, Amy Schumer was being considered to play the titular character before she was finally replaced by Margot Robbie. The internet said that Ryan Gosling was too old to play Ken. Folks rightfully started digging up the iconic doll’s history, as well as that of Mattel’s, to highlight how problematic it was to give the toy producers as well as the toy any kind of attention. Personally speaking only, the trailers for the film left me cold because I was under the impression that it would spend a little amount of time in the vibrant Barbie Land and then shift to the bland Real World to save up on the money required for CGI, VFX, and production design. The early screenings attracted a lot of misogynistic reviews and comments. But, instead of responding to these apprehensions and remarks, the film’s marketing department went into beast mode with a sense of confidence that they had a masterpiece on their hands. I am extremely happy to report that the team behind Barbie was right!
Co-written with Noah Baumbach, Greta Gerwig’s Barbie revolves around the titular doll who lives in Barbie Land. It is populated by other Barbies, spin-offs of Barbie, discontinued versions of Barbie, and Kens. Barbie lives a pretty repetitive life, which involves waking up, roaming around, and then having a party. In between all that, Ken pesters her with his romantic advances. And then everything starts all over again and proceeds to continue for all eternity. But one fine day, Barbie not only gets existential, but she starts to reflect the features of a real woman, in the literal, psychological, and metaphorical senses. She is advised to travel all the way to the Real World to repair some kind of rip in the veil that separates it from Barbie Land. When she gets there, along with Ken, she not only realizes that the aforementioned “rip in the veil” is more than a supernatural phenomenon, but she also comes to terms with the fact that the Barbies’ efforts to uphold feminism haven’t translated to the Real World. Meanwhile, the oft-ignored Ken has a different kind of realization that brings out his dark side.
Gerwig and Baumbach’s script for Barbie functions on so many levels that it’s mind-boggling. They are reckoning with the history and cultural impact of the toy line, most of which is negative in nature because it has been helmed by men. They are talking about the multi-faceted nature of femininity and how it cannot be categorized as perfect or imperfect. They are discussing body image issues, anxiety, depression, hopes and dreams, the need to be alone, the need to be with someone, imposter syndrome, expectations from oneself and the world, and underscoring the fact that the list is so long that it’s a miracle that women do what they do while tackling all this. Despite being a movie produced by Mattel, they go into heavy detail about capitalism and the constant threat of being commodified and sexualized. In addition to all that, they show us the uphill task of simply dealing with men, all of whom emanate some degree of creepiness or insensitivity. However, Gerwig and Baumbach somehow make all of these heavy and relevant themes feel accessible and nuanced at the same time. They don’t beat around the bush, as they know that addressing all of this directly while maintaining an air of whimsy will do the job. News flash: it does!
I know there are reports floating around the internet that Barbie is anti-man. First of all, as a man, I want to ask, what’s wrong with that? Have you seen the atrocities that men are capable of? Secondly, I want to know if those making these complaints actually paid attention to Ken’s whole bloody arc. Are we going to argue about whether or not we live in a patriarchal society? Is that how ignorant we are going to pretend to be? But the fact of the matter is that, regardless of where you exist on the spectrum of bigotry, you have to admit that it sends a pretty wholesome message to men. Gerwig and Baumbach say that you don’t have to be defined by “manly” things to be a man or craft your individuality by oppressing women. Men don’t have to make everything unsafe for women, who are already dealing with a lot, just to assert their skewed sense of superiority, which is actually an indicator of their inferiority complex. I mean, the men who are in power (because the world refuses to see women in power) are already making things difficult for everyone, especially women. What’s the point of adding to that, right? Given the history of oppression men have inflicted on women, the least we can do is reject patriarchy. Matriarchy isn’t the answer, though. Equality and empowerment are.
Coming to the technical stuff, from the first frame to the last, Barbie boasts of some of the best production design, costume design, CGI, VFX, SFX, and sound design. As mentioned earlier, I was afraid that Gerwig was going to spend most of the time in the Real World in order to cut corners because spending around 2 hours in a fantasy world requires money. I stand corrected because most of the movie takes place in Barbie Land, which changes and evolves as the story progresses. That’s a lot of work! That’s a staggering amount of work, and every single penny is on the screen for you to appreciate. The tone and visual style of Greta Gerwig’s Barbie are appropriately over-the-top and cartoonish. There are animated dust plumes. Costumes get freeze frames along with unique descriptions. Rodrigo Prieto’s cinematography and Nick Houy’s editing work in unison to create some of the most memorable frames I’ve seen in a recent blockbuster. The dance of the Kens is worthy of all the awards in the world. But beyond all this glitter and sparkle, Gerwig doesn’t undermine the soul and ethos of the film. She makes space for the quieter moments and hits us with a montage set to a Billie Eilish number to make us weep. I mean, thinking about it makes me misty-eyed!
The cast of Barbie is everything. Margot Robbie is riveting. The way she gradually transitions from someone living in a bubble to someone grappling with mortality is truly astonishing. She is one of the finest actors working in the industry, period. I think I’m the only one who didn’t see America Ferrera as the MVP of the film. The trailers of the film did a great job of hiding her character’s significance. I was unprepared for her monologue and her pearls of wisdom, which America elevated from preachy to educational. Ariana Greenblatt is amazing, and her chemistry with America is so natural and palpable. Every single actress who plays a Barbie and every single actor who plays a Ken have knocked it out of the proverbial park. Michael Cera’s Scott Pilgrim-esque moment had me punching the air. Rhea Perlman’s cameo is so beautiful. Those representing Mattel are the right blend of idiotic and patronizing. But, as you might have figured out by now, the scene-stealer is the one and only Ryan Gosling. This man is having a ball on the screen. His animated expressions, his famous screams, his infectious dance moves—he is doing it all, or, as Gosling would say, he’s Ken-ing up the screen, or something to that effect. To be honest, though, Ryan Gosling’s turn as Ken is one of the best performances of the year.
With all that said, I do want to shed some light on the overall viewing experience. The theater in my city had set up a small Barbie-themed photo booth that was adorned with pink balloons. Women and men showed up in pink. There was a genuine feeling of warmth, compassion, and fun in the air. Everyone clicked pictures of themselves to show how they looked before they went on an existential adventure with Greta Gerwig and co. and what they looked like after the ordeal. Yes, yes, I know it’s a studio-mandated blockbuster film backed by a capitalistic company. But it’s the people who have turned it into a celebration of women in cinema and women in real life as well. And I think it’s a big deal. If it’s not clear already, I highly recommend watching Barbie on the big screen. What you’ve read is just my opinion. So, go and watch the film with your friends, watch it with your family, or watch it on your own, form your own opinion, and feel free to share it with all of us.