'Barbie' movie review: The pre-interval half was entertaining and had fairly rollicking humor. The second half though thematically strong, bordered on the preachy while emphatically trying to ace it by playing the victim card
Still from Barbie
Cast: Margot Robie, Hari Nef, Ryan Gosling, Issa Rae, Dua Lipa, Kate McKinnon, Alexandra Shipp, Will Ferrell, America Ferrera, Simu Liu, Michael Cera
Director: Greta Gerwig
Runtime: 114 mins
A well-intentioned IP-driven cash grab in neon pink, Greta Gerwig’s ‘Barbie’ billets the colorful Plasticine paradise with existential feminism and issues of identity and the human condition. There’s also a great deal of playful, doll-house mocking humor to go with it.
Ruth Handler created Barbie in the 50s and since then Mattel has never had to look back or count its pennies. Barbie has since become the most coveted Doll and the Doll-house and accessories that go with it have only added more moolah to their coffers. So when Mattel and Warner Bros decided to hook up for ‘Barbie’ the speculation was on whether they wanted to go the Lego ‘Toy Story' way. Creating a cinematic world for toys to flourish in the real one appears to have now become the choicest way to go for popular IPs.
Our titular heroine Stereotypical Barbie (Margot Robbie) spends her days in Barbieland without encountering any changes other than those cosmetic. She has all-barbie girls' night-outs and play-time dates with little girls during the day. The variety in Barbies — including Doctor Barbie (Hari Nef), President Barbie (Issa Rae), Mermaid Barbie (Dua Lipa), Writer Barbie (Alexandra Shipp), Weird Barbie (Kate McKinnon), etc.— as well as an endless supply of devoted Kens (led by Gosling) and a solitary Allan (Michael Cera), allows for the plastic paradise to become a still-life, labeled mirror of the real world. It’s an idyllic dream women’s world where inmates, though reflecting every woman’s aspirations, aren’t quite allowed any voice other than to remain as they are. So it’s little wonder that Barbie finally wakes up one day and finds herself in a quandary. She has become flat footed, there’s extra, unbecoming cellulose on her thighs, she has even begun experiencing negative emotions and is also thinking of death. Unthinkable isn’t it? Greta Gerwig is obviously not the one interested in half-measures.
To find a cure for her ills Barbie bravely breaks out from Barbieland and into the real world. Ken, of course, sticks close. Barbie and Ken soon realize that they’re now in a mirror dimension dominated by Patriarchy. While Barbie is horrified, Ken finds this idea of patriarchy intoxicating. So a reversal of fortune takes place and that’s where the thematic barbs find free flow. Barbie provides a platform for an every woman(America Ferrera) to vocalise womankind’s mutual frustration. America Ferrera delivers the powerhouse monologue with full gusto and reverberating power. Barbie also manages to touch on empathy and understanding in order for gender bonhomie to flourish.
The narrative while not exactly deep or moving has its Hallmark moments. The screenplay by Gerwig and Noah Baumbach feels original even though the setup is familiar. The script opens up an unexpected portal exploring subjects that are off-limits in Barbieland. The costume design by two-time Oscar winner Jacqueline Durran and team as well as production design by Oscar nominee Sarah Greenwood and her team make this experience a befitting visual treat. Cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto lends radiance and shines with his gifted camerawork. Gerwig’s team does a fabulous job recreating Barbie’s world while giving the inhabitants a life and vigor opposed to the pop culture surrounding their plastic existence. The pre-interval half was entertaining and had fairly rollicking humor. The second half though thematically strong, bordered on the preachy while emphatically trying to ace it by playing the victim card. Thankfully a large section of Barbie is self-aware and sends up even its bitterest tirades with a wink.
Somewhere down the line, the movie begins to take itself too seriously. The humour begins to pall and the narrative begins to sag under the weight of its own contradictions. The social commentary on feminism and patriarchy in a dialogue-heavy act feels rather heavy-handed. If you take it at face value ‘Barbie’ makes for a fun film…but its flaws are also pretty much obvious!