girl in floral dress playing mini bedroom toy


*Spoilers ahead!*

The complexity of Barbie’s 60+ year history is no mean feat to place on screen in under two hours. An unbelievable project to be undertaken by Director Greta Gerwig, who chose to focus on the wonderfully diverse figure that Barbie has become. All whilst making/tackling statements issues that tower over Barbie’s 29cm stature. From the beginning, we were hoping for a story which featured strong feminine messages, which is exactly what we received. Featuring a plot much deeper than its characters on the surface, the overall impression of the movie is incredibly memorable. 

The movie was surprisingly slow, to begin with. If you have seen the three teaser trailers, apart from a few lines, you have already witnessed the first 25 minutes of the film. This definitely came as a disappointment considering all the build-up and relatively short duration. While many have already seen the infamous Architectural Digest tour of the set, the dreamhouse itself is well-created with plastic-infused props, many of which are head-to-toe pink. Although the picturesque setting was a nod to the dream houses on store shelves today, its focus was clearly to elicit true immersion into the world of Barbie. 

Although I was expecting a cringe approach to the humour featured throughout the movie, I was pleasantly surprised. The comedic elements were enjoyable for the most part, instead of cheesy, bouncing off of societal issues we face today. The superficial jokes around ageing and looks were expected, and thankfully infrequent. The almost all-white male Mattel middle-aged boardroom replicated the male-dominated experience I had visiting the London Toy Fair earlier this year. Although not the reality of the Barbie team, which is fleshed out by women like Kim Culmone and Linda Kyaw-Merschon, it felt fitting for the story the film was helping to tell. 

As a long-time Barbie collector, the highlight was the inclusion of Ruth Handler as a guide to support Barbie. A true immersion of the trailblazing inventor into the film, while adding something for the diehard collectors. The overall presentation of these scenes was memorable for their angelic nature, to support a new audience to understand the importance she adds to this story. The overall presence of Barbie’s career felt equally significant. So much of the history of the brand and its characters were included, which was so wonderful to witness as it paid homage to Barbie and Handler as icons, beyond the story being shown. 

Regrettably, Margot Robbie’s performance as Barbie was nothing special. Although her emotions seemed genuine in certain moments, much of the role was over-acted in a way that did not exemplify the features of the character but instead felt try-hard and predictable. Ryan Gosling’s performance as Ken was more surprising and fruitful, even if laboured.

Additionally, the chemistry between Ken and Barbie was lacking throughout the film’s duration. Both chose to use the shells of their characters and exasperate an empty-headed nature which distracted from the emotive scenes. Much of this disappointment in their performance may be due to being overshadowed by other featured actors. There was a very strong ensemble performance overall, in that each actor contributed something completely different to the world of the film.

Hari Nef delivered her lines with gusto and expressions that outperformed those of her fellow co-stars. A role, she was made for, Hari was a real stand-out who definitely deserved longer on screen. Dame Helen Mirren, as the narrator, read some classic and memorable lines throughout the film, breaking the fourth wall to awaken the audience. Her line in response to Margot Robbie’s casting was brilliant and well-timed. However, Dame’s narration felt very under-utilised, in that her subtext practically ended halfway through the film. 

As the actors’ performances weaved through comical ups and downs throughout the movie, one thing was for certain. The true star of this film was the heroic performance by America Ferrera. She deserves all the accolades and a Supporting Actress Academy Award nomination. Ferrera perfectly conveyed the internal conflict against her inner child, while giving an enlightening portrayal of what it means to represent a modern woman. Real humans are hardly so multifaceted and expressive as what Ferrera showcased on screen. Her strength and poise shifting from one motivation to another was flawless.
Ferrera’s monologue alone inspired claps and cheers throughout the audience, a moment I hope is replicated by audiences at cinemas worldwide. There is no question that this piece will be used as a reference for multiple projects in the coming years, for it exploits a relatable stance that women understand instantly. A feminist monologue that exudes strength while not being over complicated or monotonous. This moment transitioned the plot from following the lives of two plastic characters to challenging what it means to be a female in 2023. 

Her performance is enhanced by her co-star Ariana Greenblatt. Having only seen Greenblatt in Disney’s Stuck in The Middle, the maturity she brings to Sasha is unexpected and perfectly balanced. She is a true scene stealer and I have no doubt she’ll go onto bigger things. Fererra and Ariana’s mother-daughter relationship was an arc that was not lost despite the bigger characters in the movie, and a beautiful story to witness. 

Disappointments included the costuming. Although the world was pink and well placed, it would have been perfected by featuring some further nods to vintage or modern Barbie outfits beyond the first 5 minutes of the film. The moment of Robbie dressing in Chanel accessories came as a distraction as to whether the scene was part of a movie about dolls or an advertising campaign (the same question with the addition of the Smeg Toaster). Certain pieces such as the yellow dress, felt like rushed choices. The musical numbers also seemed unnecessary. Where Ken’s song voicing his internal monologue was powerful in part, the additional full musical production moment of multiple Ken’s dancing in a white box, felt over-complicated and as though it took away from the sincerity of the message. Juxtaposing Ferrera’s monologue, the song made the depth of the story lose its pace. Lacking a dream/flashback or forward to introduce this sudden dance scene, in a set we had not seen, seemed nothing if not poorly timed. 

Finally, the secondary relationship plot following a family-driven story added to the movie overall. Barbie was not just to be a cheesy romantic comedy seen a thousand times over, but a real-world story on which the satirical comedy was placed to poke fun at what is wrong with our society. Skillfully, Greta avoids Barbie becoming the butt of the joke. More so, the depiction of how society separates gender and turns us against each other was resonant. Although certain moments were superficial, much like a doll, Gerwig’s writing is to be applauded for all that it was able to capture in honing in on Barbie’s role in society both present and past, using the real world as a catalyst to display this.

Barbie is a movie that will still be watched and loved for many years to come. 

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