a still from Barbie
ManOfTheCenturyMovie Film ‘Barbie’ review: Greta Gerwig goes outside the box with her fun feminist fantasy

‘Barbie’ review: Greta Gerwig goes outside the box with her fun feminist fantasy



a still from Barbie

Opens, Obviously, with a tribute to “2001: A Space Odyssey” by Stanley Kubrick. A dazzling sunrise spreads over a barren desert, populated exclusively by sad-eyed Dust Bowl-era girls and their deadpan dolls, as Helen Mirren (!!) tells us what life was like before Barbie. It was not only boring (although it was certainly boring), but it was limited (oh, it was limited). For so many little girls, dolls were only ever baby dolls, which meant their playtime could only revolve around motherhood, servitude, and no fun at all.

But just like Kubrick’s monkeys eventually encountered by an alien monolith that has completely changed their world and their worldview, the girls of Greta Gerwig are about to be overwhelmed by a new world-altering and brain-destroying entity: a giant Barbie, one might even say monolithic, in the form of a smiling Margot Robbie, outfitted as the very first Barbie doll ever made. And so she spoke Barbie. This is where Gerwig’s fun, feminist and wildly original “Barbie” begins. He just gets bigger and weirder and smarter and better from there.

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Imagine, if you can, a world split in two at the release of the first Barbie doll in 1959. There’s the real world (known in film as, of course, “The Real World”), and then there’s the seemingly idyllic (and very plastic) Barbie Land, which exists on the premise that Barbie’s (the doll) invention had such a drastic, comprehensive, and so positive impact on the real world that she (the doll) pretty much solved feminism. As far as the Barbies (and the Ken assistants) who inhabit Barbie Land know, the real world is a wonderful place for women (because Barbie Land really is), and the female world in which they happily frolic is only a reflection of what happens in the universe in the flesh.

a frame from Barbie
“Barbie”Courtesy of Warner Bros.

In Barbie Land, women rule (Issa Rae is president Barbie, Alexandra Shipp is writer Barbie, Emmy Mackey is physicist Barbie, the list goes on and on). Oh, the Kens? Yes, yes, they are there too. But it’s called Barbie land for a reason. And while all Barbies are equally talented, fulfilled, happy, and free (every night is girls’ night!), for the purpose of Gerwig’s “Barbie,” our attention falls on one who’s about to embark on a truly unexpected journey: Stereotypical Barbie (Robby).

This Barbie (as, it seems, all Barbies) is having a wonderful day everyday. His stereotypical Ken (a delightfully distraught Ryan Gosling)? He only has a good day when Barbie pays attention to him and Barbie is pretty busy. Gerwig walks us through a typical Barbie day with meticulous attention to detail (both impressive and incredibly fun). His Barbie Dream House? It has no windows, no working stairs, no running water. She can get where she wants by simply jumping (just like a child might move her doll, pushing her from one point to another with little attention to logic). Her hands are stiff. Her food is non-existent. Her life is perfect. Robbie’s dedication to the gag, along with co-stars Rae, Shipp, Mackey, Hari Nef and Nicola Coughlan runs deep and, boy, does it pay off.

a frame from Barbie
“Barbie”Courtesy of Warner Bros.

But there are cracks in the facade of Barbie Land. (Like, if this Barbie Land really is so feminist, why are men treated like second-class citizens, arm candy, afterthought?) Soon, our stereotypical Barbie is in pain. Her feet? Suddenly flat. Her thighs? Besieged by a growing patch of cellulite. Her brain? Irrepressibly filled with thoughts of death. Somehow, it seems, real-world angst has seeped into Barbie (general angst seems to have long since seeped into Ken), and it is only Weird Barbie (Kate McKinnon) who can guide this Barbie to the truth .

That truth: She has to go to the real world and mend the tear in the temporal fabric that keeps Barbie Land and the real world starkly different. And as Barbie, initially resistant to the fate before her, finally accepts the challenge with verve and vigor, the questions begin to pile up: how different is she? I am Barbie Land and the real world? If what happens in the real world can impact Barbie Land, is the opposite true? And why the hell is Ken in the backseat of Barbie’s fuchsia car as he drives straight to La-La Land?

a frame from Barbie
“Barbie”Courtesy of Warner Bros.

Once in the real world, Barbie and Ken’s twin realizations of what it is Actually like unfolding at a lopsided pace. Barbie is confused by everyone’s behavior, not only by men who glare at her and women who laugh at her, but especially by that of Sasha (Ariana Greenblatt), a sassy teenager who he believes is his longtime owner, the very person who suffers from such profound anguish that it tears a hole between the real world and Barbie Land. Gerwig and co-writer and longtime partner Noah Baumbach constantly lift the veil (or, as the case may be, tear apart their own temporal fabric) as Barbie is besieged by real-world (non-feminist) truth, Barbie Land (also she is not feminist), and her place in both.

Ken, meanwhile, is life. When Barbie, deep in thought, sends Ken for a walk (don’t go far!), the starry-eyed companion ends up wandering Los Angeles’s Century City (a specific joke that works wonders) where he gets his fashion things really work. Men rule! Patriarchy is very real! This is Exceptional! (Ken also believes that manliness and patriarchy are inextricably linked with horses, which leads to all sorts of hilarious confusions and wonderful sight gags, all of which Gosling delivers in an Oscar-level comedic tone.)

a frame from Barbie
“Barbie”Courtesy of Warner Bros.

Gerwig and Baumbach’s adventure into the real world is badly needed: unlock the film’s thesis after besieging us with hilarious fun, give us darling Greenblatt and her Barbie-obsessed mom Gloria (America Ferrera, who escapes with the last act of the film), and allows Will Ferrell to go crazy as the wacky (male!) CEO of Mattel. However, it is not as fun, fantastic and fun as the rich world of Barbie Land – that’s the point. Thankfully, we’re back there soon enough, though he’s been vastly altered by the full strength of a returning (and, dare we say, red-pilled) Ken, who uses all of his newfound masculine rage and patriarchal power to upend what was once a female idyll. Barbie? She is having a Bad day.

What hope is there for Barbie Land? What hope is there for the real world? And can Barbie actually save both this time, complete with a genuine feminism message (Earth to Mattel brass: This film is profoundly feminist)? The ways in which Gerwig and Baumbach unravel those tricky questions are only part of the film’s joy, which remains at a very high level, even when it comes to heady and weighty questions. Along the way, Gerwig and Baumbach find both humor and nuance in everything from mini-fridges to the Matchbox Twenty hit “Push,” the masculine urge to explain “The Godfather” to the Supreme Court, the limits of modern feminism to bright neon Skates. Barbie is not just everything, “Barbie” is everything.

a frame from Barbie
“Barbie”Courtesy of Warner Bros.

Gerwig, as always, has assembled a stellar supporting cast. All the Barbies dabble, but the Kens, appropriately enough, throw in some real sneak attack, especially Simu Liu and Kingsley Ben-Adir, and Michael Cera just about gets away with the whole thing as the singular sidekick Allan. There’s also a lineup of talented killers below the line: Opuses can and will be written to production design by Sarah Greenwood and costume design by Jacqueline Durran. “Barbie” is a carefully crafted blockbuster with a lot in mind, the kind of feature that is sure to benefit from repeated viewings (there’s so much to see, so many jokes to catch) and is still purely entertaining even in a single watch .

It’s Barbie’s world and we all live in it. Fantastic.

Grade: A-

Warner Bros. releases “Barbie” in theaters on Friday, July 21.

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