3.5 out of 5
Barbie is clever, indulgent and fun. There, I said it. I had no expectations going into this film beyond the huge hype - and the fact that everyone was wearing pink. I didn't get the memo.
If there's one thing that the hype around Director Greta Gerwig's Barbie film have made it clear consistently, it's that the narrative is far cleverer than what it lets on. But the film turns out to be too clever — it's a satire that keeps underlining that it's a satire. By the end of the film, you feel like saying — yes, we get it, you're smart. Having said that, one can't deny the ingenious thought that's gone into the writing of Barbie by Greta and her husband Noah Baumbach. It helps that the writing room constitutes a married couple because at heart, Barbie is really a battle of the sexes. It pits Margot Robbie's Barbie against Ryan Gosling's Ken. Barbieworld (where women rule the world and the men are subservient) against the real world, feminism against patriarchy and yin against yang.
Margot plays the stereotypical Barbie who starts to malfunction because of a fault in design at its creator, Mattel. So Barbie and Ken travel together to the real world in order to get to the root of the issue. But Barbie discovers the perils of being a woman in the real world whereas Ken gets a crash course in patriarchy.
Barbie goes through quite an existential crisis here. From her body parts malfunctioning like she's hit puberty, from getting introduced to wolf-whistling in the real world, getting gaslit by Kens, to reconciling with her identity — Barbie comes a full circle here. Greta uses her as a symbol of capitalism to comment on consumerism, patriarchy and beauty, but also humanises her enough to be her own woman. She underlines the fact that though Barbie made many girls feel inadequate, she herself is conditioned to not know anything better.
Margot Robbie makes for a great Barbie because she allows herself to be used as both a mannequin and a conduit of revolution. She plasters a wide grin on her face so impressionably that when she tears up for the first time, one can't help but feel miserable for her “achy, but good feeling.”
Ken (Ryan Gosling) is the antithesis of patriarchy in the Barbie world but upon learning about the patriarchy in the real world, plays him so deliciously that it makes for a sound self-deprecating study of masculinity. Watch him admire his flexing muscles while talking, or walk like a cowboy from a Western in the real world. Ryan Gosling gets the brief, makes a whole meal of his part, and doesn't mind using his disarming machismo as a tool to subvert patriarchy.
Right from the word go, we're transported to a world where pink is the new normal. From rosy sunsets, pink cactus tops, candy-coated houses to a sea of hot pink energy, Greta barely lets any frame escape sans the colour. Production designer Sarah Greenwood and costume designer Jacqueline Durran painstakingly build a whole new world that makes garish and gaudy look natural and organic.
The pink is a curious cover to stage a clever satire. Greta doesn't take potshots only at Mattel, a co-producer and enabler of this adaptation, for some of its regressive business decisions, but in one scene, also aims one at the production house Warner Bros for how it mishandled the Zack Snyder cut of Justice League.
However, at one point, the satire feels self-defeating. After the Barbies lead the Kens on by baiting them to mansplain them, they also instigate them against each other, which ends up reinforcing the stereotype that the reason men fight against each other is because of the women.
This is not a film for children. Here in Ireland it carries a 12A certificate. In the screening I attended, two six or seven year old girls were sitting near me and were bored while their parents laughed at the genital, or lack thereof, jokes.
It is good fun and deserves the success it is enjoying. Go see it.
Oh, and Helen Mirren as The Narrator is a delight!