Director: Greta Gerwig
Starring: Margot Robbie, Ryan Gosling, America Ferrara, Helen Mirren, Kate McKinnon, Ariana Greenblatt, Michael Cera, Will Ferrell, Kingsley Ben-Adir, Issa Rae, Rhea Perlman Simu Liu
Distributor: Warner Bros
Runtime: 114 mins. Reviewed in Jul 2023
Reviewer: Fr Peter Malone msc
| JustWatch |
Rating notes: Mild crude humour, innuendo, coarse language and slapstick violence

Barbie suffers a crisis that leads her to question her world and her existence.

Once there was Pretty in Pink. Now pink everywhere…  The tone is set to prepare our response to Barbie with a parody of the monolith and the apes in 2001, little traditional girls smashing their dolls overawed by the statuesque Barbie. This is emphasised by the sardonic expression of Helen Mirren’s voice-over commentary.

We are immersed in Barbieworld, the parody of the sign of BARBIEWOOD, and images of Barbies on Mount Rushmore.In this living toy world, today is the best day, so was yesterday, so will be tomorrow. Writer-director Greta Gerwig has said how she talked with Peter Weir and it would seem this toyland of niceness is parallel to The Truman Show and Truman’s genial, if sheltered, life.

But, with Robbie sparkling as Barbie, song and dance routines, and lots of doll-like behaviour, she suddenly mentions death to general Barbie horror. She consults Weird Barbie (the sardonic McKinnon) who sends Barbie [who realises she is ‘Stereotypical Barbie’ because, as happened in the real world, there are Barbies for all seasons, all races and all builds] on the journey into the Real World.

In Barbieworld, many of the Barbies are high achievers, including the president, an author, scientist. The Kens, however, (and just as many Kens as Barbies in form, race, abilities … ) are preoccupied with themselves and their own rather vain images. The lovelorn Ken (Gosling having to do a lot of the jokes and parody turns) hitches a ride into the Real World. Barbie is on a quest to meet her real-life owner of the past, a secretary and designer at the Mattel company (Ferrara), with her rebellious daughter (Greenblatt) and becomes more aware of the complexities of actual living (including sexual harassment). But Ken goes to Malibu, tries to be a doctor without qualifications, discovers the patriarchy and enjoys developing macho attitudes. He goes back to Barbieworld and transforms all the Kens into vain strutting types, and turning all the Barbies with their talents into Bimbo Barbies at the beck and call of the Kens.

In the meantime, the Mattel company (allowing itself to be sent up) is concerned about Barbie on the loose. They go into aggressive mode, all the Board on rollerskates, led by the CEO (Ferrell in one of his manic performances).

Barbie goes back to Barbieworld with her owner and her daughter, dismayed at the male takeover –Ken is running things, ineptly. So, a mission to overcome all the brainwashing of the Barbies, getting them back to themselves, asserting themselves and their authority, using the tactic of getting the Kens to fight among themselves (quite elaborate choreography for the battles and confrontations). Down with the patriarchy.

Some commentators have mentioned that there are many preaching moments throughout. There are. And in many areas they would be well needed. The best is in a long litany of critique of macho patriarchy by Ferrara. Robbie also gets this kind of speech. However, there is a pleasing ending, with veteran actress Rhea Perlman as the creator of Barbie, reminiscing about her daughter, the doll modelled on her with her name, but the reality of her daughter having to grow up, to become a woman, in a man’s world, but to stand up for herself believing she could be anything she wanted to. Amen.

[It would be very interesting to be a fly on the wall to hear conversations between young women and their boyfriends about women and the patriarchy after their seeing this film.]

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