- Warning: Minor spoilers await for “Barbie,” which hits theaters July 21.
- Ryan Gosling gives a standout performance as Ken, a hilarious himbo vying for Barbie’s affections.
- “Barbie” offers smart commentary, but doesn’t offer solutions to the real-world problems it presents.
Whether you love Barbie or hate it, Warner Bros.’ Mattel’s long-awaited celebration of the ultimate toy has something for everyone.
in development For nearly a decade“Barbie” manages a vibrant film filled with enough Easter eggs and nods to the doll’s 64-year history to warrant a second watch, along with a self-critical piece for those who believe Barbie is a blight on feminism.
Most of the film’s adult jokes are sure to go over the heads of younger viewers, but at its most basic, director Greta Gerwig’s “Barbie” is fun to watch, offering pure joy a moment before serving up nostalgia and sending viewers on an emotional rollercoaster. Next, it sometimes airs a live-action “Toy Story.”
Unfortunately, the film’s larger commentary on how men and women are treated differently falls short of providing any encouraging solutions, though its implications are much deeper than one might expect in a summer blockbuster about an iconic toy.
‘Barbie’ has a wilder, existential storyline than the trailers suggest
Beginning in fictional Barbie Land, every Barbie and Ken lives in the real world under the delusion that “all feminism’s problems have been solved.” They assume the same philosophy applies outside of their fictional paradise, as women hold all the power in Barbie Land, including presidents, doctors, Supreme Court justices, and homeowners.
The Kens, led by Gosling and Simu Liu, exist only to serve their Barbie and live in her shadow.
When “Stereotypical Barbie” (Margot Robbie) begins to malfunction — developing cellulite, existential thoughts of dying and dreaded flat feet — she sets out into the real world with Ken (Gosling) to set things right. However, unexpected discoveries in Los Angeles call everything into question.
Barbie is horrified to learn that women don’t run the world, as she is invited and ignored. Emotionally, Barbie struggles with the purpose of her existence and what if she isn’t making the world a better place, instead forcing women to internalize unrealistic beauty standards. (Yes, this movie goes deep.) As Barbie has an existential crisis, Robbie’s soul-crushing emotional distress is palpable.
Gosling’s Ken is having a blast, though. Delighted to be respected for the first time in her life, she becomes obsessed with the idea of patriarchy and introduces the concept to Barbie Land with disastrous results. Already overwhelmed by the harsh reality of men ruling the real world – Barbie is all about taking back Barbie Land before it’s destroyed and dominated by men.
There was something incredibly ironic about Barbies and Kens fighting for the right to be heard in a fictional land, as writers, directors and actors descended on the street a few blocks outside Warner Bros.’ Studio, strike for same in Hollywood. (The Insider’s screening was moved earlier in the week from the Warner Bros. studio lot ahead of the SAG-AFTRA strike.)
‘Barbie’ isn’t afraid to take shots at its parent company, Mattel, and it’s worth a look
While filled with Easter eggs for fans, the film is simultaneously self-critical of its heritage.
Bubblegum trailers and Anywhere marketing campaign While audiences may have hoped to see a lighthearted movie about the doll, “Barbie” isn’t afraid to highlight her controversial past and poke fun at discontinued and canceled Barbies. Sugar Daddy Ken and A Captain doll Whose breasts grew with the twist of a hand.
The film even pokes fun at the original Barbie creators Legal issues.
MVP of Ryan Gosling’s Energy ‘Barbie’
Everyone from Michael Cera as Ken’s friend Alan to Kate McKinnon as a weird Barbie (a doll played with some emotion) is perfect. And, of course, there’s Robbie, whose features make her look like she was made by Mattel.
But it’s Gosling who knocks it out of the park as the jealous himbo vying for Barbie’s affections. Like a real Ken doll, Gosling’s Ken doesn’t feel seen, appreciated or respected in a world full of Barbies. He is constantly competing with Simu Liu’s Ken, who is adorable under his skin.
And yes, for those wondering, “Barbie” has a lot of shirtless Gosling, which is borderline distracting. His washboard abs get as much screen time as his bleach blonde hair.
Gosling’s scene-stealing moments come late in the film He sings and dances in a musical ensemble with Kens. The number is equally funny and heartfelt, and you can’t help but feel the sadness when Gosling’s Ken sings, “I’m just Ken. Anywhere else I’d be a 10. Where I see love, she sees a friend.” Gosling’s Reminiscences Early Mickey Mouse Club daysThis is one of the best moments in any movie so far in 2023.
Another highlight of the film comes from America Ferrera, who plays a mother who delivers a passionate feminist speech. As she catalogs so many unrealistic expectations placed on women, it’s hard to imagine the scene won’t resonate with every grown woman sitting in a movie theater. (The scene resulted in me and the two women sitting on either side of me silently wiping tears from our eyes.)
It is not clear what message ‘Barbie’ is trying to convey
By the end of its 114-minute runtime, “Barbie” shifts from portraying the struggles of being a woman and uniting to overthrow the (at least fictional) patriarchy, leaving the audience to sympathize with Ken. He temporarily becomes the film’s mischievous himbo antagonist.
More often than not, you feel like you’re watching at least two movies in competition (albeit a good one) — the Barbie one and the Ken one. Because of that, the takeaway message from “Barbie” is difficult to assimilate.
“Barbie” offers a lot of big ideas to think about, but it frustratingly fails to take a stand on any potential solutions.
Do women have the power to bring men down? Seeing how the real world treats women, Barbie finds it hard to buy when she first retreats from reality and into her own imaginary safe haven.
Should we want equality between men and women? A narrative thrust line that holds true for both Barbie and Ken is that they both want to be respected and looked up to: Barbie in the real world and Ken in the fantasy. But it’s hard to buy because, without spoiling, the message gets muddled by the end of the film.
In the end, the movie serves as a stark reminder that Ken is “just Ken” in fictional Barbie land. In the real world, he is everything. Girls are “just barbies”. Barbie can be everything in the fantasy worlds we imagine. According to Billie Eilish, the film offers little about what we can do about it.What was I made for?“Plays over the film’s credits.
“Barbie,” also starring Will Ferrell, Issa Rae, Kingsley Ben-Adir and Emma Mackie, hits theaters Friday.
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