Barbie began as a doll line back in 1959, and since its inception, it has become one of the most highly successful toy lines of all time. Everything from t-shirts to video games have been made featuring the iconic doll, and now 64 years later, she makes her leap to the big screen in her first film. The result is pretty much what you would expect. That’s not a bad thing, though.
Margot Robbie stars as the titular character, but she’s known as Stereotypical Barbie who lives in Barbie Land, which is a colorful, matriarchal utopia in which all the Barbies have unlimited amounts of confidence, and they have successful jobs such as being doctors or lawyers. And, of course, where would a Barbie Land be without Ken? Ryan Gosling stars as Ken, whose only joy or satisfaction in life is if Barbie notices him. He competes against other Kens for her attention.
Barbie’s seemingly perfect world comes to a crashing halt when she contemplates her mortality. Her normal, everyday routine is interrupted as a result. She sees another Barbie known as Weird Barbie (Kate McKinnon), and in order to set things right, she must travel outside Barbieland and into the Real World. Ken comes along with her, much to her chagrin. When the two enter the Real World, they become fish out of water and get into a series of mishaps before Barbie finally tracks down the source of what can make her ailments go away. She encounters a girl named Sasha (Ariana Greenblatt) who lambasts Barbie for allowing girls to have unrealistic expectations in terms of beauty. Sasha’s mother, Gloria (America Ferrera), might also have something to do with the ever-changing nature of Barbie.
Will Ferrell plays Mattel’s CEO, who wants to place Barbie back into the box that she originally came from to stop the existential crisis she’s facing, but Barbie refuses.
Barbie was directed and co-written by Greta Gerwig, who made Lady Bird and the 2019 remake of Little Women. This is another movie with a message of female empowerment, but it’s also not afraid to explore patriarchy, as well. It is a satirical take on the material, but I kind of expected that. Some audiences that go are probably going to be incredibly divided in thinking that the movie shouldn’t have some of the messages that it has, but mainly this is a funny, bright, charming adaptation with lively performances from its cast.
Robbie is perhaps the ideal personification of Barbie, but she’s not afraid to make this a three-dimensional character thanks in large part to Gerwig’s assured direction and writing. However, the real star of the movie is Gosling, who is over-the-top silly and not afraid to embrace the material with a goofy wink. His Ken will go down as one of the funniest performances of the year.
Barbie is not a movie for younger girls, but those around 12 or so might get a lot of enjoyment out of it. Gerwig, Robbie, and Gosling pull out all the stops in making this an entertaining, thoughtful, and, yes, occasionally funny romp.