On Monday night I was lucky enough to see an advanced screening of the Barbie movie, and I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it.
First up I do want to say that I think it will be one of THE MOST divisive films of this year, between critics and fans a like. I suspect it’s going to cause a fair sized shit storm, I can’t wait to see how the world processes and digests it. I felt conflicted at times watching it and I’m a hardcore Barbie fan!
Why will it divide? For so long Barbie (much like Dolly Parton) has appealed to all sides. It was up to the consumer to project whatever they wanted to onto her, she had the same beliefs, opinions and moral compass as the person playing with her. This movie effectively sees her pick a side, and I think it will challenge a lot of people. The film plays with gender roles, questions and critiques societal systems, makes fun of the patriarchy (in a weirdly loving way) and make no mistake about it, it’s absolutely feminist and woke. Towards the end of the film one of the characters gives an impassioned speech to rally the troops and manages to capture the stark truth of being AFAB and/or a woman in a man’s world, which is no easy feat and not something I expected to happen in this movie.
The film very clearly has three acts, the first one introduces us to Barbie land and opens with a banging, hilarious Lizzo song that narrates the opening scenes. We get a detailed lay of the land, a look into their way of life and we meet all the Barbies and Kens who live there, it’s a delicious visual feast. It felt like the first time I saw Dorothy step into Oz in all its technicolor glory. The attention to detail with the costuming and set design is incredible, throw every applicable award their way! You’ll be teleported back to a simpler time, a time just before pregnant Barbie (Midge) was discontinued. I have no notes on act one – it was the perfect set up.
In act two Barbie enters the real world and her existential crisis era. It’s the densest part of the film and where they clearly decided to tackle a lot of the meat of what they were trying to achieve. It also feels a bit like it was a part of the hostage negotiations to get the more fantastical stuff over the line, like the mandatory safety briefing, the sensible part, the “one safe take” for the sponsors. Will Ferrel as the CEO of Mattel is there and followed around by his merry men aka the rest of the toy company’s board. Truth be told, I can’t believe that the actual Mattel CEO agreed to this depiction of him and his company. He’s either extremely self aware, or in extreme self denial and I can’t work out which!
The third act takes us back to Barbie land, and there’s a Singing in the Rain, meets Grease, meets Westside Story song and dance number from all the Kens that will stay with me until my dying day. The twist for Ken in act three is genius and one I would never have thought of and yet now seems like an obvious place to explore for him, if Ryan Gosling doesn’t win an Oscar for this we riot.
Margot Robbie gives a deeply thoughtful and heart felt performance as Barbie, America Ferrera as our main human protagonist is all of us, she’s the perfect partner to Margot’s Barbie and keeps the film grounded in parts it threatened to completely blast into space. Kate McKinnon as “Weird Barbie” is outstanding and one of the highlights of the film. Weird Barbie represents that one Barbie we all went a bit too hard with, shaved her head, melted her toes, painted her face with a heavy hand and a sharpie and for some unknown reason had her perpetually in the spilts.
Barbie has SO MANY ideas (some may argue too many) and wants to achieve so much, at times it felt like they’d locked a bunch of conservative white men and hardcore feminists in a room and asked them all the things they loved and hated about Barbie, and then took that info and inserted it into the script as a way to address and douse potential fires the movie may light. What I mean is at times, it felt slightly defensive and like it was over explaining itself.
Fair warning, if you think about this movie too hard your brain may turn in on itself. So Barbie is the problem but she knows this and will address it but is still the problem? But at least now she knows it, but she’s still the problem? But wait! Is it ok that we still love her? Even though she’s the problem? It’s best that you don’t drill down too hard is what I’m saying. I did and I’m still attempting to find my way back from the pink Matrix.
I know some of you want to know if you should take the kids, honestly – I’m torn on this one. Despite its claim of being for all ages and all people, this movie is a straight up love letter to women of a certain age (hint: us) who lost themselves in the world of Barbie as kids. If you’re considering seeing this movie, then I reckon that’s probably you, and you (and your younger self) deserve to be completely immersed in Barbie Land without distraction. I genuinely think that anyone under the age of ten will struggle to follow along with the themes, especially in act two. That being said, it’s not inappropriate in any way, so if you have small people who are LEGIT Barbie mad, they will be fine. The “riskiest” discussions are around genitals and even then it’s not something you should be worried about.
The main question I had was would Greta Gerwig be able to pull it off? Could she deliver a movie that would be all the things it needed to be to satisfy the many complexities surrounding the world of Barbie, while simultaneously not completely shitting on the brand beloved by millions.
Yes, I believe she did. Not perfectly, but it’s certainly good enough to be dangerous. They made the thing, and they got as close to it being what it needed to be as I think anyone ever could. To tick every box and to keep everyone happy is not something anyone could have achieved in just one movie, it’s too complex a subject matter – but they got really bloody close.
Ultimately it is joyful, poignant, beautiful film and it made me feel a certain type of way. Both nostalgic and seen, which is really all you could want from a trip to the cinema.
Four Barbie Dream homes out of Five.