Barbie (Rated PG-13)
By: Adam Freed
Beneath the glitz and pink plastic glam of Barbie there is a not so secret heartbreak waiting for those willing to listen. Using the massively popular global brand as a vessel to serve that reality cocktail is the great gamble that director Greta Gerwig, writer Noah Baumbach and gravitational stars Margot Robbie and Ryan Gosling have made. Barbie is a film sure to divide audiences both tonally and in subject matter, as it presents both lighthearted humor and razor sharp satire with equal precision.
Gerwig’s zeitgeist piercing work has afforded her multiple avenues through which to share her distinct perspectives on femininity in society. Her masterful remake of Little Women (2019) proved her ability to soar within period piece constraints while still capturing the importance of the everlasting bonds of sisterhood. Two years earlier, coming of age dramedy Lady Bird (2017) celebrated a young woman’s right to explore the world for answers to questions she may not yet have. In all of Gerwig’s work there exists the connective tissue of a powerful female voice muted by a world unable or unwilling to love her willingness to embrace the act of growing up. The delightfully painful independent film Francis Ha (2012) ensnares Gerwig’s voice as both writer and actress as she navigates the awkward post college years with equal parts humor and hardship. It is her modern embrace of an imperfect femininity that proves Gerwig’s selection to helm a film about a historically controversial doll rather thought provoking.
The conundrum that the Barbie film wittingly embraces is that Barbie has been the apex representation of the unattainable female form, decimating for decades, the esteem of some mirror dwelling young women. Humorously counterbalancing this heavy handed reality is that the film’s representation of the Mattel corporation, headed by a bone headed Will Farrell and his team of male sycophants, believe they have solved the very issues they perpetuate by selling a diversity of Barbie representations. There are numerous missed opportunities in the limited visual presentation of Barbie, but the obvious studio lot set pieces seem to capture the limited depth of the plastic world in which Barbie and friends have lived for decades. In one of the film’s more cutting societal critiques, Gosling’s Ken tastes the sweet poison of patriarchy during a visit to the “real world” and attempts to douse Barbieland in a hilarious tidal wave of moronic masculinity. This is one of a multitude of successful jabs the film takes at gender inequity.
Not every moment of Barbie hits with a glitter bomb of filmmaking perfection, but provides enough laughs and sharply written satire to make it a worthwhile viewing. There is an emotional reminder presented in Barbie that living a life of appreciation is to seek beauty in the flaws of ourselves and others. The film’s most touching moment comes in the “real world” as Barbie reminds a senior citizen of just how beautiful she is. Further proof that Gerwig’s light has always been brightest when embracing the perceived shortcomings that make everyone uniquely lovable.
*Note to reader - The irony that Barbie is a film about strong and confident women banding together to right the multitude of wrongs forced upon them by a patriarchal society, and yet is being critiqued by a man, does not go without acknowledgement. I hope I have avoided Ken-splaining as much as possible.