A Barbie movie probably shouldn’t even exist, let alone be this good. An audacious start to this review, I know, but this is an audacious film. Taking a doll and giving it life, while examining both the positives and negatives of its very existence, through the lens of a laugh out loud yet often touching comedy? This is damn near a miracle of a movie. Skewering the societal patriarchy while also having you howl at cinematic references, epic dance numbers, and genuine emotion? Greta Gerwig has outdone herself here. This is one of the year’s best works so far.
Considering that the log line for this flick is simply that “Barbie suffers a crisis that leads her to question her world and her existence,” there’s a ton going on here. Barbie is action, comedy, fantasy, and satire all rolled into one, with immersive production design, its tongue planted firmly in its cheek, but its heart always beating loudly and proudly. I know I’m not necessarily the audience for this film (aside from loving quality cinema), but knowing that there are young girls out there that will see this and absolutely go gaga over it, that heartens me to no end. Plus, as mentioned, it’s just spectacular entertainment.
Part of what delighted me so much here is the surprises within, so I’ll be very brief in my plot summary, avoiding anything beyond more or less the first half. We’re introduced to the concept of a Barbie Doll before being whisked away to BarbieLand, where they all think that the Real World is basically a female empowered utopia. After all, there’s a Barbie for everyone and every occupation, so isn’t that what life is like. However, when one Barbie (Margot Robbie) begins to think about some depressing topics, the other Barbies (including Emma Mackey, Hari Nef, Issa Rae, and Alexandra Shipp) have her go to talk to another of their kind (Kate McKinnon) with information about why it might be happening. She informs our Barbie protagonist that her connection with the Real World is creating a rift, due to her girl imbuing her with these feelings. She’ll have to go there and straighten things out. The Barbies and Kens (including Kingsley Ben-Adir and Simu Liu) send her off, but one (Ryan Gosling) that worships her decides to tag along.
In Los Angeles, they quickly realize that the Real World is very different. While Ken becomes fascinated by the patriarchy and the way men seem to have the power and status here, Barbie goes looking for her human, meeting Gloria (America Ferrera) and her daughter Sasha (Ariana Greenblatt). Of course, once word gets out to Mattel, its CEO (Will Ferrell) wants to keep this under wraps. To say where things go from here would spoil so much, but I was consistently surprised with the heart, humor, and overall boldness of the story.
Margot Robbie and Ryan Gosling are phenomenal here, each as good as they’ve ever been. Gosling is a comedic goldmine and deserves legitimate Best Supporting Actor consideration. The amount that he throws himself into this role is staggering and staggeringly delightful. The commitment itself is hilarious, let alone his comic timing. Robbie is funny too, but has the dramatic high points, potentially making you roll a tear by the end. I know I did. The other Barbies and Kens have their moments, for sure, but Gosling and Robbie are the highlights. America Ferrera grounds things well, while Will Ferrell is amusing in a very silly role. In addition to everyone mentioned above, the cast also includes John Cena, Scott Evans, and Ncuti Gatwa as other Kens, alongside Ritu Arya, Nicola Coughlan, Ana Cruz Kayne, Dua Lipa, and Sharon Rooney as fellow Barbies. The supporting players are rounded out by Michael Cera, Emerald Fennell, Annie Mumolo, and Rhea Perlman, among others. Helen Mirren narrates impeccably.
Co-writer/director Greta Gerwig deserves a ton of kudos for not just thinking of this take on Barbie, but for executing as well. Along with her co-writer/partner Noah Baumbach, they imbue this film with societal commentary, some sly digs, and an epic takedown of the patriarchy. This isn’t a political film (those trying to weaponize it as such are laughable, unless they actually believe what it’s skewering is how the world should be, in which case they’re evil, ignorant, or both), but the points it makes are quite lucid. At the same time, Gerwig is determined to entertain, not just amazing production design and ace performances, but with dance numbers, action scenes, and constant surprises. There’s no way to expect what she and Baumbach had up their sleeves. Lady Bird might still be her best movie, but this is easily her most ambitious.
Oscar-wise, I think this deserves legit consideration in several categories. Best Picture, Best Director (for Gerwig), Best Actress (for Robbie), Best Supporting Actor (for Gosling), Best Adapted Screenplay (for Gerwig and Baumbach), Best Production Design, Best Costume Design, Best Makeup & Hairstyling, and Best Original Song (potentially times two) should all be on the table. My guess is that Picture, Supporting Actor, Adatped Screenplay, Production Design, and Original Song nominations are potentially gettable, with Actress next in line. If the Academy ignores this one based on what they assume it is, they’ll miss out on what it is and end up with an awful snub, mark my words.
Barbie is one of the biggest surprises of the year. If it seems like it’s about to run out of steam towards the end of the second act, it’s just saving a huge change for the final third. I was with it every step of the way, especially when it gets emotional towards the end and left me a mess. This is not just a movie for any one type of audience member. There’s a Barbie for everyone, of course, and now there’s a Barbie film for everyone to enjoy!