Barbie is gloriously ridiculous with beautiful production design and excellent performances but it’s tonally uneven and a bit heavy handed in the third act.
Plot: Barbie and Ken are having the time of their lives in the colorful and seemingly perfect world of Barbie Land. However, when they get a chance to go to the real world, they soon discover the joys and perils of living among humans.
Review: It would have been hard to escape the twin marketing onslaught of the “Barbenheimer” opening weekend. Two seemingly polar-opposite blockbuster movies that strangely share an obsession with death. Who knew?
But, beneath the plastic marketing veneer and day-glo stylings of Greta Gerwig’s latest directorial feature lies a potent mix of heady fantasy, dark satire and laugh-out-loud visual comedy.
Those going into this movie expecting something merely light and frothy will be somewhat surprised by the more grown-up sensibility and language-not profane just…well…grown up. You wouldn’t expect to hear extended debate about the patriarchy and the objectification of women in “Barbie”…would you? Maybe you would. Most of that stuff will go over the kid’s heads though cause they’ll just enjoy the visual fun, amazing costume designs (take a bow Jacqueline Durran) and the energetic, funny pop soundtrack (by Mark Ronson and Andrew Wyatt).
Who would have thought that Barbie would be having an existential crisis and having thoughts of death? The clever conceit of this movie is that whatever happens in “The Real World” also has an effect on all the Barbies and Kens in Barbieland. The scenes set in Barbieland are wonderfully OTT with lots of in-jokes and cultural references to keep the adults amused while the younger members of the audience enjoy the incredible sets and pop-video stylings from Cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto and Production designer Sarah Greenwood. These are the best parts of the movie and the audience is left in no doubt that this is a very tongue-in-cheek affair. Having said that, a couple left the screening that I was in after about 30 minutes muttering “this is nonsense”. Not really getting the joke then?
Margot Robbie shines as Barbie and strikes the right balance of wide-eyed enthusiasm and confusion at discovering The Real World is the opposite of Barbieland. In The Real World, men rule over everything.
Ryan Gosling almost steals the show as himbo Ken, who only comes to life whenever Barbie pays any attention to him. Both leads throw themselves into their roles and totally commit to this fantasy world to much hilarity.
Where the movie comes a bit unstuck is in the scenes in The Real World. Much has been written already about the comparisons to the LEGO MOVIE with Will Ferrell pretty much reprising the same role. It just seems a little too familiar. I’m a Ferrell fan but this was just him coasting.
“Barbie” works best when it’s being darkly satirical, and Mattel (Barbie’s creators) bear the brunt of a great deal of the abuse. Thankfully, they obviously don’t mind laughing at themselves.
Where it falls down is in the third act. Heavy-handed preaching takes the place of clever satire. In one scene, one of the main characters has an extended monologue about what it is to be woman. A sentiment I’m sure many in the audience would agree with but it feels slightly condescending, and it feels tonally at odds with what’s gone before.
But, there’s much to admire here. From the uninhibited performances to the sheer exuberance and fun of the production. Also, being brave enough to do something this different deserves more than a little credit too.