“Barbie” Review – More of a Message Than a Movie

Margot Robbie Ryan Gosling Barbie

“Barbie” was directed by Greta Gerwig and stars Margot Robbie as everyone’s favorite Mattel doll. She plays “Stereotypical Barbie” and lives with many different types of Barbies in Barbieland, as well as among Kens who are oppressed, homeless, and devoid of purpose in life (we’ll get to this dichotomy later). One day she has an existential crisis and must venture off into the real world, leading to dire consequences for Barbieland.

If this story structure sounds familiar, that’s because it’s a rip-off of “The LEGO Movie” and “Toy Story 3.” Gerwig’s movie isn’t as concerned with creating a compelling narrative as it is with relaying a message.

The way Gerwig develops messaging in her screenplay (co-written by Noah Baumbach, who’s fallen from grace after his masterpiece “Marriage Story”) is obnoxiously in-your-face without a hint of subtlety. The word “patriarchy” is said at least twenty times, with each occurrence more and more cringe-inducing. Likewise, “fascist” is inappropriately used, as is other vocabulary which eight-year-old girls — the supposed target audience —wouldn’t understand. The spewing of ideas makes the film itself feel more like a raging college thesis than an actual story trying to entertain the audience. “Barbie” is made for pseudo-intellectuals on Film Twitter and Letterboxd, to put it frankly.

Barbie Margot Robbie

The worst part is that the messaging isn’t even beneficial or positive. It’s great for a “Barbie” movie to have women empowerment, but instead this film goes way beyond that into the realm of blatant sexism and disregard for real-world gender dynamics. Every single man in this film is either a complete moron or an evil predatory demon. As soon as Margot Robbie’s character rollerblades into the real world, men leer at her, catcall her, and sexually assault her in broad daylight as she’s accompanied by who seems to be her boyfriend. At least 95% of men would never do these things, and the few despicable ones who would would never do it in public.

The film paints this completely false portrait of the real world where every single position of power/respect is held by a man, as if there’s not a single woman who isn’t chained to a desk as a secretary. It’s such an angry and ignorant perspective on the world. Am I saying everything is perfect in our society? Of course not. Far from it. But let’s be honest — the United States isn’t an apocalypse where 50% of the population lives in complete fear and repression. There are other countries where it’s like that, but certainly not in Los Angeles America. There’s definitely still work to be done and I have a lot of sympathy for the difficulties women endure, but this movie takes it to such unrealistic extremes that inadvertently downplay the power of women.

Yet the absolute worst element of the messaging is how the film concludes. Without giving away spoilers, the solution is basically to have a sort of reverse sexist state. “Barbie” doesn’t give young audiences the perpetually meaningful message of equality for people of all genders, races, sexualities, etc. No, no, no. Why would it? Instead, the movie concludes that Barbieland should be a haven in which exclusively Barbies hold the positions of power whereas the Kens remain oppressed and homeless, all in order to counteract the patriarchy of the real world. What kind of message is that for young children? Does Gerwig really want young girls to think the best way to fight sexism is with sexism?

Now let’s move on from the messaging and into everything the film gets right and wrong. As for what it gets right, the production design and cinematography are absolutely stunning. Barbieland is a treat to look at and it’s instantly immersive. You just want to explore that world made entirely of plastic and zero elements. It feels like one giant playset. This is easily one of the most gorgeous and visually stunning films of the year.

Barbie Margot Robbie

Some of the performances also impressed me, the standout being Margot Robbie. She deserves an Oscar nomination for her work here. She goes through so many different emotional cycles as Barbie, from a joyful ray of sunshine to a broken woman seemingly without purpose to a hopeful, matured individual. Robbie’s physical mannerisms feel plastic and toylike, and when she’s required to sell the emotional journey Barbie embarks on, she really, really sells it. Kingsley Ben-Adir was another standout as one of the background Kens, who’s basically Ryan Gosling’s sidekick. Something about him was just so endearing, warm, and lovable.

Unfortunately, that’s about it for the aspects I enjoyed. I was surprised and disappointed by Ryan Gosling’s performance, not because it was bad, but because his character was such a mess that his performance didn’t match the script. Gosling plays Ken as a moronic but sweetly naive character, whereas the script wants him to be a moronic and dangerously insecure antagonist, so Gosling’s constantly working against the grain. Again, I was extremely disappointed by Gosling’s Ken because I’m an enormous fan of his and he’s clearly an immensely gifted comedic talent — just watch “The Nice Guys.”

Additionally, Gerwig writes the Kens to be so lovable and sympathetic as these under-appreciated and hapless figures whose only purpose is to please the Barbies, but she then wants the audience to despise the Kens later on. I’m sorry, but how could we possibly do that? The Barbies are cruelly apathetic toward them throughout the film, so it’s natural for the audience to sympathize with the Kens.

The script gets even more problematic. Firstly, everything with the real-world is completely unnecessary. The plot of the film is so reliant on the Barbie-Ken dynamic that the narrative could’ve been kept the same without the extra Los Angeles subplot. Also, the movie is way too long. Even though it’s under two hours, it needed to be trimmed by at least twenty minutes, as the third act lasts about fifty minutes and it just gets so exhausting by the end.

Barbie Barbieland

Anyway, I think it’s darkly funny that I’d have such a plethora of philosophical opinions on this toy movie. I’m not sure whether I respect Greta Gerwig for that or not, but what I do know for sure is that there was a clear potential for this film to have been great. It has the visual style and the actors necessary to pull off a great “Barbie” movie, but that horrific screenplay from the depths of hell hold it all back. Do I think “Barbie” is an abomination like some others do? Not really, but the very fact that many people feel that way proves this film should never have been made in this manner.


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