It's a 'Barbie' (2023) World/Directed by Greta Gerwig/Grade: A
Updated: Aug 4
Just got home from a showing of Greta Gerwig's Barbie (2023). I was initially excited purely out of my love for the cast and crew, I liked Gerwig's previous features Lady Bird (2017) and Little Women (2019), and because I loved the premise, but not out of any particular love for the toy itself. What a pleasant surprise of a comedy!
For those who've somehow not been bombarded by the advertising campaign that led up to this film's release, the movie follows Barbie (Margot Robbie) as her perfect plastic world starts to unravel when she suddenly experiences an existential crisis. Urged to venture into the Real World by Weird Barbie (Kate McKinnon), she and her best friend Ken (Ryan Gosling) must track down Gloria (America Ferrera), a disenchanted businesswoman who used to play with Barbie as a little girl. Simultaneously, they discover the not-so perfect patriarchal rules that govern the lives of humans, as primarily represented by the evil Mattel CEO (Will Ferrell).
From a technical standpoint, this movie is absolutely gorgeous. Sarah Greenwood's production design, along with Jacqueline Durran's costumes, make Barbie Land feel genuinely cinematic, like it's an actual world occupied by these dolls. It reminded me of how the makers of Toy Story made Andy's room feel like the toys' own little world whenever their owner wasn't around. It's also full of fun little easter eggs for die-hard Barbie fans, of course. I particularly enjoyed the little convertible Barbie uses to drive into the Real World.
Rodrigo Prieto's (The Wolf of Wall Street, The Irishman, Brokeback Mountain) cinematography is also gorgeous. It masterfully utilizes color to not only recreate the aesthetics of Barbie World versus the real world, but to reflect the figurative and literal artifice being stripped away to reveal reality. As Barbie progresses along her journey, not only does each shot capture what she's feeling internally, but also smartly incorporates color along with it. A scene towards the end, involving an encounter with Barbie creator Ruth Handler (Rhea Perlman), literally has all the colors change around Barbie in the background, in a way that made me feel deeply what she felt. That's effective lighting and cinematography.
Performance-wise, this movie is aces across the board, which once again reflects Gerwig's keen ability to connect with actors. Margot Robbie, who also produced the film, is delightful as the titular character. From the moment she's introduced, she just has that likable quality about her that you'd expect, and displays a great range and nuance whilst she navigates Barbie's inner journey. One sequence, where the doll quiets down, closes her eyes, and just lets herself feel her emotions as she observes a park full of people, whilst trying to connect with Gloria, might be my favorite scene of the year so far. I actually started to tear up as I watched it.
Ryan Gosling also deserves the hype that surrounds his work as Ken. He takes the role totally seriously, because Ken takes himself seriously, which makes his dorky attempts to win over Barbie, or mold himself into the image of what a man is 'supposed' to be, all the more hilarious. There was a consistent stream of laughter in my theater, myself included.
Speaking of the ideals of patriarchy and what a man is supposed to be, this film smartly treats itself as a comedic character study that's also a commentary on how this system hurts both women and men, rather than the reversal. Co-written by Gerwig and her husband Noah Baumbach (Marriage Story, The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)), we're simultaneously given fleshed-out characters that we can surprisingly relate to, as well as plenty of great jokes. This makes the themes of the movie highly effective and wickedly satirical as a result.
If you're excited for this picture and haven't seen it, are debating whether you should see it, or assume you wouldn't be caught dead anywhere near a movie called Barbie, definitely check it out, preferably in a cinema with a large audience. This is a rare movie that actually has something for everyone. It's funny, heartfelt, well-acted, superbly technically crafted, and it's got straightforward, positive messaging as the cherry on top. Life in plastic actually is fantastic.