This smart and fun-filled film co-written by Greta Gerwig and Noah Baumbach is a real joy from start to finish, making you stop and think as much as it makes you laugh.
The film begins with a wonderfully vibrant and detailed sequence that for me brought back nostalgia of playing with my own barbies when I was little, credit to all those who have done such a stellar job of bringing Barbieland to life so vibrantly and authentically (with plenty of nods to the toys themselves), while it is explained to us that thanks to the creation of Barbie in which the dolls can be anything. they have sorted all the problems elating to equality However, when original Barbie (Margot Robbie) suddenly begins to feel sadness and questioning her own life (as well as development of flat feet), a trip to Kate McKinnon’s “Weird Barbie” (which teaches us all what happens when we play with our toys too hard) reveals that she must take a trip to reality to try and find the girl who she is linked with and help her become happy again.
Of course, things don’t go quite according to plan, thanks to Ken who stows away to come along on the journey and makes a discovery of his own – the patriarchy in which men and by some extension horses are in fact in charge. Suddenly, the film changes in mood and tone as Barbie on her quest meets gothy teen Sasha whose cynical attitude towards Barbie catches her off guard even further, while Mattel HQ’s CEO (Will Ferrell) is desperate to get her back in her box so that men can regain control of the situation. Beneath the comedy of the script there does feel like there is a genuine sadness that lies at the heart of the script that highlights the everyday stresses we all feel – beautifully communicated through Gloria’s (America Ferrera) wonderful monologue towards the end of the film which is surprisingly moving.
But it is the way in which Gerwig and co-writer Noah Baumbach manages to balance the thoughtfulness out with some good natured humour which ensures that the film doesn’t get unnecessarily heavy and still manages to provide plenty of fun for the audience to enjoy. The scenes in Barbieland are wonderfully shot (even if it does feel slightly surreal with all the different Barbies and Kens around), with the fight between the Kens proving to be hilariously choreographed, while the way in which the journey between Barbieland and the real world is very cleverly shot. But in terms of the way in which (again) the script manages to showcase the dismantling of the power of the Kens there is a message of hope that things can change and we all have the power to do it – brilliantly highlighted as the Barbies turn on the Kens in imaginative style.
There are moments when it is possible to worry that it is going to be superficial, but then that thought is automatically dispelled by quieter moments, such as the cameo by Rhea Perlman as Ruth who created Barbie adds a nice element of pathos to the film that is really unexpected.
Throughout it all, the performances are all pitch perfect, led by Margot Robbie who gives wonderful depth to a character who could have been seen as simply soulless. She has warmth, playfulness and showcases Barbie’s intelligence and growth well. She is well matched with Ryan Gosling’s Ken, capturing his journey from feeling second best to going about the wrong way of trying to feel like number one to realising he needs to find himself ,without Barbie’s help in a hilarious but thoughtful way. His performance of ‘I’m Just Ken’ and the choreography around it feels like a proper music video and is a joy to watch. Kate McKinnon as “Weird Barbie” is fabulous as the straight talking, no nonsense character, while Michael Cera as Allan is wonderful support.
This is a film that is fun, thoughtful and joyful from start to finish and makes us re-evaluate how far we have come in society but also how far we have got to go in creating real change. Barbie has just become an icon all over again.
By Emma Clarendon