The Barbie movie directed by Greta Gerwig presents a fiercely funny and feminist take on the iconic Dreamhouse.

The Barbie movie could have easily fallen into the trap of being another forgettable cash grab driven by intellectual property. However, under the direction of Greta Gerwig, known for her work on acclaimed films like Little Women and Lady Bird, it transcends expectations to become a neon pink delight.

When Warner Bros. first announced plans for a Barbie movie, the concept seemed like a bizarre concoction straight out of a Hollywood Mad Libs session: Insert a beloved indie director (Greta Gerwig!), pair it with an untapped intellectual property (Barbie dolls!), and sprinkle in an adjective (neon pink!). As details gradually emerged during the lengthy press tour, each revelation seemed more peculiar than the last. Gerwig, known for her work on films like Lady Bird and Little Women, drew inspiration from unexpected sources like 2001: A Space Odyssey and Gene Kelly musicals. Elaborate dance sequences were hinted at, and Ryan Gosling offered cryptic comments about something called “Kenergy.” With all the hype surrounding this hot pink extravaganza, many wondered: What exactly was this movie, and could it possibly live up to the anticipation?

The verdict? Never underestimate Gerwig. The Oscar-nominated filmmaker has delivered a bold, humorous, and profoundly feminist journey that challenges audiences to both laugh and cry, even if they’re made of plastic. It’s undoubtedly a standout among summer blockbusters, seamlessly blending astute critiques of the wage gap with lighthearted humor, such as Kens playfully threatening to “beach” each other off.

The film, set to hit theaters this Friday, transports viewers to Barbie Land, a fantastical world of vibrant colors and perpetual sunshine, akin to a candy-colored toy box. Here, our protagonist, played by Margot Robbie, enjoys endless days filled with magic and neon. She’s surrounded by a plethora of fellow Barbies to socialize with, including Doctor Barbie (portrayed by Hari Nef), President Barbie (played by Issa Rae), and Mermaid Barbie (embodied by Dua Lipa). Additionally, there’s a never-ending supply of devoted Kens, led by Ryan Gosling’s frequently shirtless heartthrob. It’s a plastic paradise perfectly tailored for Robbie’s portrayal of the quintessential Stereotypical Barbie, embodying the very essence of what comes to mind when one thinks of Barbie.

However, Barbie’s perfect world begins to unravel. Her Malibu Dreamhouse starts malfunctioning, she’s plagued by un-Barbie-like thoughts of mortality, and her flawlessly arched feet inexplicably become flat. Determined to uncover the truth, Barbie seeks guidance from the enigmatic Weird Barbie (portrayed by Kate McKinnon), who reveals that a mysterious breach has formed between their realm and the human world. To restore balance, Barbie must embark on a daring journey to Los Angeles to locate the human child playing with her doll counterpart. Naturally, her ever-loyal Ken (played by Gosling) joins her on this adventure.

As Barbie and Ken glide through the streets of L.A. on rollerblades, they are confronted with a startling realization—they have entered a parallel dimension devoid of the female presidents, CEOs, and astronauts they expected to find. Barbie’s mission to inspire young girls to dream big seems to have fallen short, and she grapples with the realization that her legacy may have inadvertently perpetuated corporate objectification rather than empowerment. Gerwig fearlessly addresses Barbie’s complex legacy, delving into how she has become synonymous not with leadership or creativity but with commercialized objectification. Barbie herself is appalled as she encounters crude remarks and misogyny for the first time in her plastic existence. Meanwhile, Ken finds himself drawn to the allure of this newfound patriarchy, embracing stereotypical symbols of masculinity such as trucks, cowboy hats, and the intoxicating thrill of power.

Gosling’s portrayal of the earnest himbo Ken has garnered widespread acclaim, and rightfully so—he absolutely steals the spotlight. Known for his brooding roles in films like Blade Runner 2049, Drive, and First Man, Gosling shines as he taps into his inner Mouseketeer, dramatically throwing himself at Barbie’s feet or belting out a shirtless power ballad titled “I’m Just Ken.” While Ken may not possess much in terms of intellectual depth, Gosling infuses him with a heart brimming with emotion—love and admiration for Barbie, a yearning for validation of his masculinity, and a childlike wonder about the world surrounding him.

Robbie undeniably remains the standout star of Barbie. Physically, the blonde Australian actress already embodies the quintessential Barbie aesthetic, a fact cleverly acknowledged by the film itself in one memorable gag. Yet, Robbie goes beyond mere appearance, delivering a truly transformative performance. She masterfully manipulates her limbs and joints, mimicking the movements of a plastic doll with astonishing accuracy. While Robbie has previously showcased her manic physicality in films like Babylon and Birds of Prey, she fully embraces physical comedy here, executing slapstick moments with finesse—such as a comedic face-plant onto the floor, limbs splayed like a discarded toy. As Barbie delves deeper into the real world, Robbie’s performance subtly evolves, infusing her character with a growing sense of humanity. One particularly poignant scene sees Barbie quietly perched on a park bench, observing the humans around her—a moment that encapsulates Robbie’s ability to convey emotion even within the confines of Barbie’s plastic facade.

While Barbie and Ken captivate with their charm and humor, the real-world counterparts—portrayed by America Ferrera and Ariana Greenblatt—pale in comparison. Ferrera portrays a frazzled mother working a mundane job at Mattel, where she daydreams of alternative Barbies grappling with real-life issues like cellulite and mortality. Meanwhile, her sardonic teenage daughter, played by Greenblatt, rejects everything Barbie symbolizes, often engaging in pointed criticism directed at Robbie’s character. Although Ferrera delivers a powerful emotional speech, the human characters ultimately feel less fleshed out compared to their plastic doll counterparts—a flaw that detracts from the overall cohesion of the film.

Despite its shortcomings, Barbie puts in the effort to entertain both 11-year-old girls and the parents accompanying them to the theater. Gerwig, who co-wrote the script with her partner Noah Baumbach, infuses the screenplay with clever, witty one-liners that add depth and reward repeat viewings. However, there’s concern that Hollywood might misinterpret Barbie’s success and rush to greenlight films based on every toy collecting dust in a child’s playroom. Yet, Gerwig’s meticulous attention to detail and genuine care infuse Barbie with a distinct perspective, elevating it above typical cynical, IP-driven cash grabs. It turns out that life in plastic truly can be fantastic.

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