Directed by: Greta Gerwig Runtime: 114 minutes Starring: Margot Robbie, Ryan Gosling, Simu Liu, Kate McKinnon, Issa Rae, America Ferraira, Ariana Greenblatt
This Barbie is having an existential crisis. Greta Gerwig creates a breathtaking baby-pink world filled with Barbies blissfully moving through their simplistic existence; waking up in their dream houses, getting dressed in killer outfits and going off to space, the hospital or the ‘Pink’ house depending on which accessories are included. But Stereotypical Barbie (played perfectly by Margot Robbie) starts to feel out of sync one day, setting our story in motion.
It would be disrespectful to talk about Barbie without addressing the showstopping costume design. The fact that many of us had already seen the true-neon skating fits and cowboy get-ups did little to take away from their impact on the big screen. But I find my minds eye stuck on some of the outfits we get briefer glimpses at like the fluffy ski boots on the snowmobile or Barbie’s camping clothes. The vibrance and beautiful finishing on every single piece of clothing will secure this film’s icon status for years to come. Everything I saw made both my inner child and outer twenty-something internally scream with joy, a tricky feat we haven’t enjoyed since Legally Blonde or 13 Going on 30. Given the importance of costuming here, it’s fitting we get a gentle moment between Ann Roth (costume designer who worked on greats like 9 to 5, Working Girl, Stepford Wives, 5 times Oscar-nominated and two-time winner) and Margot Robbie sitting on a park bench together.
The sets! Drenched in details all with the aim of creating a cohesive world but also allowing each person in the theatre to have a moment of “I had that when I was a kid!” Production designer Sarah Greenwood and set decorator Katie Spencer have 100% achieved Gerwig’s aim of creating “authentic artificiality”. The pair told Vogue that they reduced the scale of everything by 23% to make Barbie and Ken look bigger in their spaces, helping them to feel like real dolls and also reinforcing Robbie’s character feeling out of place. The pink sand on the beach, painted backdrops, carefully considered dream houses are all such a feast for the eyes.
The cast commit to creating something special and memorable with Barbie. Margot Robbie does an incredible job, it’s challenging to maintain her character in the real world without either veering into the ridiculous or compromising on her believability as a doll but Robbie pulls it off beautifully. Ryan Gosling allows himself to be silly, but it provides lots of laughs and never undermines the importance of the film; he’s inviting us to laugh at him, not Barbie. Gosling fully understood his role as Just Ken. I wish we’d had more space in the story to develop America Ferreira’s character Gloria and her relationship with her daughter. Our introduction to Gloria’s daughter Sasha (Ariana Greenblatt) had the potential to be the strongest moments of the film, where Barbie meets a little girl who hates Barbie and discovers the dolls haven’t fixed everything like they thought. However because Barbie runs out of time to really give Sasha an arc of her own, her character (and her criticisms) lose significance in the narrative. A big strength of Gerwig’s is unpacking the dynamic of relationships that are under strain and we get a taste of that in Barbie but it’s fleeting. Michael Cera’s portrayal of Allan was a revelation! How do you make yourself sillier than Ken? He figures it out. Kate McKinnon as Weird Barbie is such a highlight, and it was so clever to have her hold all the Barbie lore. Our narrator Helen Mirren has one of the best lines of the film, you’ll know it when you hear it.
Now, the plot is a mixed bag. I’d like to live in a world where we could have a 3 hour Barbie movie because this film had so many ideas stuffed in and the pacing suffered. We get a lot that works; an overarching message that goes beyond just “Be yourself” and gives us the grace of acknowledging how challenging it can be to know yourself and find your place in the world. I won’t go into too much detail but the film glides over overthrowing the patriarchy, achieved here by turning men against each other. It’s meant to be light but I do understand where the criticisms are coming from even if it’s another example of women’s work being held to unfair standards. Almost like Gerwig knew that would happen and that’s why she baked the weight of unreasonable expectations into her film? Nevertheless, it’s Barbie’s World and I for one want to be living in it. See this film.(4 / 5)