Let’s talk about Barbie.
Ok, let’s try and do this review without mentioning that nuclear bomb themed movie that came out on the same day. We might be the first review to do so! Anyway, Barbie has been a controversial figure for seemingly my entire lifetime. While the toys remain popular and many girls still put a Barbie on their Christmas list, they are a good way to start an argument. Because the typical Barbie is a blond bombshell type, people have accused the brand of glamourising certain beauty tropes and pressuring young girls into thinking they need to look like that. Mattel, the company that makes Barbie, have tried to address this by doing lots of different Barbies but that accusation still remains. This means a Barbie movie has a lot to do to win over it’s audience.
Barbieland is the land of the Barbies and all is well as they believe they live in paradise and have helped the real world to be brilliant for all women. However, when Barbie starts to have dark thoughts she’s never had before, she goes to the real world and discovers Barbie may have done more bad than good.
So how do you deal with the controversial reception Barbie has, so controversial that some mums will outright refuse to buy it for their children? Well you tackle it head one. It would have been easy for the director Greta Gerwig to have just used one of the 40+ animated Barbie movies as a base for this film considering they seem to do the job for the target audience of who buys the toys. But instead, she’s managed to write and make something which takes the criticisms of the toy line and makes it into the driving narrative. This is a really good way of taking a potential weakness, and the various articles other authors on this website would inevitablely write about feminism and Barbie, and turning it into a strength. It then uses this meta element to create a story which is essentially about someone realising that everything they have done has not worked out as intended.
That is a great test for a character that is essentially all good. Margot Robbie plays the main Barbie, called in the film stereotypical Barbie. That’s because Barbieland has a lot of different Barbies, all of which do different jobs and it leads to the already iconic ‘Hi Barbie’ scene. The film does that joke from LEGO Batman where they go ‘Oh my God this Barbie actually existed’ but that’s fine because seriously why did sugar daddy Ken ever exist that’s terrifying. But Robbie is the focus and because she’s stereotypical Barbie, she’s all good and sweet and everything someone might imagine feminine perfection is. And yes that is me choosing my words carefully lest I get murdered by feminists. So having her face the real world which is pretty bad for women, even today, and having her confront that she may be to blame for some it is a great way of testing her character. It leads to plenty of funny scenes and more twists and turns in the story that you’d might expect, especially with Ken.
And in general, it’s just a very funny movie. The script is very sharp, taking any opportunity to make a joke about Barbie and/or sexism. But the jokes never feel like they are at the expense of the toy. It would have been easy to fall into that trap of just doing hate jokes on Barbie and thus alienating everyone who every loved the doll growing up. Because while most people acknowledge the toy did set an unrealistic body image for young girls, those same people had a lot of fun with Barbie as kids and have a fondness for it. It’s the little secret that meant this film always had a good opportunity of being a hit. But the jokes are always done with love for the toy which mean the barbs never feel too mean spirited.
This film just looks incredible as well. Barbieland is an absolutely stunning setting that looks like it’s been made in a child’s imagination. I can’t say Barbie was my choice of toy growing up but this must have been what kids were imagining when they were playing with those toys. Gerwig has made a great choice to avoid the lazy and easy option of making it with CGI and building all of these sets by hand, making the Dream House into this real, tangible thing. These sets are so expansive that they caused a worldwide shortage of pink paint, that’s how much effort went into this. The film does dally a bit at the start before getting to the plot but when the film wants to show off the girliest sets ever created, you can’t really blame it can you?
Unfortunately, there are some problems which drag the film down from being one of the best blockbusters of the year. You can probably tell that this film is going to have a lot to say about sexism and it does. It really guns for the patriarchy which forms a very important part of the plot as it closes in on it’s conclusion. So it wants to send an important message out about equality and it does. About five thousand times. It’s message is correct of course, but it feels heavy handed and especially forced when there’s about three separate speeches in the final part of the movie. Surely some streamlining could have been done so the message had a bigger impact rather than getting bored of it by the end? Also, I have no idea why Will Ferrell’s CEO character is in this movie. It seems like he’s going to be a villain and then he isn’t because the film takes a different turn. He feels like a remnant of an older script rather than something this plot needs.
Barbie has everything it needs to be a big hit, hence why it’s breaking more records than it’s toy line did. It is incredibly quotable with a script that delivers plenty of killer jokes and while I haven’t had time to mention it, the soundtrack pops and is already dominating the soundtrack in a way movie scores simply don’t anymore. Yes, the message is pretty heavy handed and there’s some plot elements that could have been stripped away. But this is the movie event of the year and you should allow yourself to be peer pressured into watching this because it’s a blockbuster where two massive CGI creatures don’t punch eachother for twenty minutes at the end and I’m glad for the change.