Director: Greta Gerwig
Cast: Margot Robbie, Ryan Gosling, Will Ferrell, Kate McKinnon, America Ferrera, Ariana Greenblatt, Emma Mackey, Alexandra Shipp, Issa Rae, Simu Liu
Runtime: 1 hr 54 mins
Rating: PG13 (Some Sexual References)
Released By: Warner Bros
Opening Day: 20 July 2023
Synopsis: To live in Barbie Land is to be a perfect being in a perfect place. Unless you have a full-on existential crisis. Or you’re a Ken.
Who (or what) is Barbie, really? This reviewer remembers her (it?) as a doll from Mattel which wasn’t exactly on the affordable end of things, and his sister owned one Perfume Pretty Barbie from the countless number of Barbie dolls produced by the toy company. Is Barbie a toy to empower girls (and doll loving boys) so they can be anything they want to be, or is it a pretty plastic doll associated with the word “bimbo”? Will we finally have an answer with this movie starring the pretty Margot Robbie and the handsome Ryan Gosling?
After a number of forgettable computer generated direct to video and streaming TV movies, this is the first live action film based on the fashion doll – helmed by Oscar nominated Greta Gerwig, no less. Known for excelling in exploring curious characters who do not conform and have the tendency to rebel against the norm, Gerwig is an interesting choice to direct the movie. Released during the summer blockbuster season, is it meant to make a killing at the rather dreary box office, sell more Barbie dolls, or make a statement on the state of gender issues in the world? Thanks to the celebrated director, it is likely to be all of the above.
The movie’s protagonist is Stereotypical Barbie (Robbie, who is the perfect candidate to play Barbie), and we see her living the best day of her life (everyday, it seems) in her perfect Barbie world. She wakes up flawless, goes about dressing up in her dream house, and says hi to all the other Barbies living in a realm known as Barbie Land. These aren’t Stepford wives, mind you – these are truly happy and empowered female characters. There is a president, a doctor, an established writer, a doctor, a Nobel Prize winner amongst other jobs that your parents wanted you to have. The other Barbies are played by Alexandra Shipp, Issa Rae, Ritu Aryu, Hari Nef and Sharon Rooney. Plus, singer songwriter Dua Lipa shows up as a mermaid Barbie.
Then there are the Kens. The most prominent Ken in Barbie Land is played by Gosling, and he is flanked by other Kens played by Simu Liu, Kingsley Ben-Adir, Scott Evans and Ncuti Gatwa. Somewhere, there is Ken’s friend Allan, played by Michael Cera. And John Cena pops up as a Ken-maid. All these male characters are hilarious, but there in Barbie Land, they really don’t have much to do. We don’t even know whether they hold any jobs.
This is the fun factor of the movie that is uproariously enjoyable. We snigger at how perfect everything is in Barbie Land, and laugh at the Kens for being himbos. We gawk at the gorgeous work from costume designer Jacqueline Durran and production designer Sarah Greenwood, who have created dazzling outfits and lovely dream houses for the characters strut around in. We also tap our feet to Dua Lipa’s “Dance The Night” as the Barbies and Kens dance their hearts out.
Then you wonder, where do we go from here? Thanks to the released trailers, we know that Robbie’s Barbie and Gosling’s Ken find themselves in The Real World (snigger again) after Stereotypical Barbie finds herself thinking about death (gasp!). Without giving away too much, we’ll just say what happens next is a very creative way of exploring gender issues that makes you think whether it is male or female toxicity that is causing conflicts around the world. The concepts of patriarchy and matriarchy are brilliantly presented, and the 114 minute does so in a very entertaining way. So you can be assured there are no boring preachy moments. Even when America Ferrera’s human character gives a poignant monologue about what it’s like to be a woman, it comes across as inspiring.
Gerwig co wrote the script with her husband Noah Baumbach, who is also an acclaimed filmmaker. Besides the great story, credit also goes to Robbie and Gosling. The Australian actress has been delivering good work in her recent movies, and she gives yet another emotionally engaging performance in this one. Gosling gets some of the best lines in the movie (“Surfing is not even my job. And it is not lifeguard - which is a common misconception.”), and if we want to see the actor perform at the next Academy Awards, an Internet campaign to nominate the song “I’m Just Ken” has to start soon. The riotous scene comes with an outrageous dance sequence for Rosling and his male co stars to show off their moves. We would very much like to see it performed live at the Oscars.
(Thanks to Greta Gerwig and Noah Baumbach's clever script, the movie is outrageously funny and even has time to explore existential gender issues)
Review by John Li