Director: Greta Gerwig | Script: Noah Baumbach, Greta Gerwig | Cast: Margot Robbie (Barbie), Ryan Gosling (Ken), America Ferrera (Gloria), Helen Mirren (Narrator), Will Ferrell (CEO of Mattel), Kate McKinnon (Rare Barbie), ea | Time to play: 114 minutes | Year: 2023
Most moviegoers have hated modern trailers for quite some time. It’s annoying that it often has to contain such an epic version of an existing pop song, but the worst thing is that they often show the entire movie in brief, and then also exactly as it appears in the movie. The creators of Barbie understood that the first half hour contains enough material to use only their footage to capture the audience’s interest. What follows next is a wonderful surprise.
The stereotypical Barbie lives with all the other Barbies and Kens (and Allens) in Barbieland, where everything is perfect and women have finally earned an equal place in the world. One day Barbie suddenly feels less cheerful. She learns that this is because the girl who plays with her in the real human world is apparently not feeling happy anymore. Barbie travels from Barbie’s bubble to reality to figure it out, but it turns her world upside down more than she’d like.
When does a child learn that fire is really dangerously hot? If the father warns against this? Not if the child can’t resist and puts a finger in a flame. People learn their lessons best when they feel them from within. Barbie it is a mirror of a great problem in society that many people do not even see in its entirety because it is so deep-rooted.
But before we get to that, there is an introduction. Those who have seen the teaser in which 2001: A Space Odyssey personifies, they will be allowed to look again, because that is the opening. Most of what follows in the first half hour is known from the trailer. With one difference: everything is explained even more clearly with the voiceover of Helen Mirren. Anyone who didn’t understand why Barbie floats from her bedroom open to the street will hear it. Very unnecessary, she leaves the viewer to think for themselves.
Not everything is already known. There’s a nice song by Lizzo, twice in fact: once to describe Barbie’s daily life and once to show how things don’t go so well for the first time. Or the introduction of how it all works: real people live in the real world and think Barbies are just dolls, in a hidden reality live all the Barbies who know they are designed by people, but just enjoy their own little paradise.
The trailer also showed Barbie ending up in the real world. And from that moment everything is new. It begins with Barbie noticing the difference between what is normal in her world and what is real. She’s surprised by that, we understand why she’s surprised. But these are only the first steps towards the bottom.
The jokes get louder, too: the interaction between Barbie and Ken and real people is hilarious. It doesn’t rhyme with their worldview and they speak everything openly and literally. The mystery of who is behind Barbie’s growing depression is quickly solved; smart idea, because this is not what it is about.
What follows is a sharp criticism of us, told in a childish and rosy way. The innocent puppets speak everything in a simplistic and direct way, no one can credibly claim that the message is not clear. A certain norm in our society is so standardized that even those who oppose it still partly accept it.
Because the film is incredibly light-hearted and colorful, it never feels pedantic or preachy. The jokes keep coming, the Barbieland sets are awesome. This is not a women’s movie, everyone can have fun with the mind-blowing adventure of the most famous doll. The number of jokes that are obviously improvised is very low, the script was already quite funny.
Towards the end there is a long musical moment that focuses entirely on Ken, which gives the feeling that the creators wanted to jump to the conclusion in an unpredictable way and had no better choice than this. It’s entertaining, but it’s also off-key, which gives it an alienating feel.
Of Barbie It can shake up society, it’s a matter of waiting, but in any case it’s a vibrant comedy that delivers a strong plot in an accessible way. The movie doesn’t take itself seriously, there’s even a breaking of the fourth wall via a brilliant comment from Helen Mirren about a certain casting choice. You’d expect it to be funny, but it’s also surprisingly good and substantive comedy.