I wasn’t much of a doll person as a little girl, but I did like my Barbies. I had several, and my grandmother nurtured in me a love for the fashionista figurine with a perfect figure and blond hair. She and I even made Barbie clothes. I remember being so excited when the pull-string talking Barbie came out, and I had Ken and Skipper, the car, and the Dreamhouse, but by the time Barbie’s best friend Midge’s pregnant version came out in 2002, I way way way out of the Barbie business. Admittedly, my excitement for the new Barbie film surpassed my 12-year-old granddaughter’s, and she’s excited to see it. I wasn’t disappointed!
As played by Margot Robbie, co-writer/director Greta Gerwig’s Barbie is adorable, exuberant, and delightful. She’s incredibly upbeat (at first), and all the different Barbie versions over the years are beautifully depicted. It’s fun to see the various Kens, Alan (Michael Cera), and other Barbie staple characters. When her forever-in-heels feet go flat, and her mood changes drastically, Barbie looks for answers in the real world and, more specifically, at Mattel, the company responsible for her creation. Ken stows away in Barbie’s car and enters the human world too. They have extremely different experiences – he learns about Patriarchy (and horses). She finds Gloria (America Ferrera) and her daughter Sasha (Ariana Greenblatt), who cause Barbie’s thoughts of death, depression, and doldrums, and together, they seek to set things right.
Gertwig and co-writer Noah Baumbach infuse their Barbie universe with vivid colors (mainly pink), all the characters/dolls over the years in their impressive roles, excellent sets, and delightful dance sequences. I found everything so fun to watch. I was, however, surprised at the film’s PG-13 rating, given that Barbie is a toy for little girls, and even more surprised by the suggestive references and language. Still, overall, the film is pretty safe and perfectly paced.
Will Ferrell, the Mattel CEO, maintains the Barbie balance. When things go haywire, he and his band of corporate men venture into Barbie-land (to return Barbie to her box), only to discover that stereotypical Ken, emboldened by the idea of patriarchy from the real world, has transformed the Barbies’ home into a male-dominated society where Barbies cater to their Ken’s. After getting over her shock and having an ugly cry, Barbie joins forces with the other Barbies (and Gloria and Sasha)to take their world back. A visit to “Weird Barbie” (Kate McKinnon), who was “played with too hard,” reveals that a wormhole has opened between the Barbie world and the human one.
Sure, there are some heavy-handed feminist speeches, particularly by Ferrera, but it’s Barbie, after all, and Barbie deserves to be perfect in her perfect world. I don’t think the cast could have been better. Ironically, narrator Helen Mirren takes a sardonic dig at casting when she points out that Robbie is a poor choice for an ugly cry sequence. When they meet, Sasha tells Barbie, “you’ve been making women feel bad about themselves since you were invented.” Sasha adds, “You set the feminist movement back 50 years, you fascist!” Barbie suddenly realizes that instead of saving the world, Barbie seems to have helped create a dystopia in which “men look at me like an object” and “everyone hates women!” Ultimately, the script is smart, the cast engaging, and the story creative and fun. Best yet, Barbie wins the day. I am placing four stars up top for this one.