July 20, 2023

CINEMA | Margot Robbie Thrives in a 'Barbie' World

"Mothers stand still so our daughters can look back and see how far they have come."
Margot Robbie America Ferrera Ariana Greenblatt Greta Gerwig | Barbie
Warner Bros. Pictures / Mattel Films
Celebrated actress/filmmaker Greta Gerwig directs Margot Robbie (also a producer) in a surprisingly existential takedown of both sexualized capitalism and the structure of modern patriarchy. Based on the popular Mattel toy franchise, Barbie is an entertaining, IP-driven piece of naked corporate consumerism that very pointedly skewers its own troubled history of imperfect feminist ideals.

While Robbie ably portrays the tricky dual roles of the conventional plastic "Stereotypical Barbie" and a more grounded, self-aware character who awakens in the real world, it's Ryan Gosling's hilarious absurdist take on a very insecure and "totally superfluous" Ken, who becomes radicalized in our world by the kind of toxic masculinity that inspired the men's rights movement, is the true highlight of the explicitly comical elements of Barbie's two worlds. He's truly great as both the dumb boyfriend and confidently misguided leader.

Many familiar faces show up as different versions of Barbie, Ken, and their sidekicks, including Issa Rae, Simu Liu, and Michael Cera. Outside the toy world of "Barbie Land," America Ferrera and Will Ferrell steal most of their scenes as Mattel employees with connections to the plastic toy version of the famed character created in 1959. It's impressive how Gerwig juggles the satirical parts of the film with a genuine emotional mother-daughter heart.

Margot Robbie Ryan Gosling Greta Gerwig | Barbie

Scripted by Gerwig alongside her real-life partner, fellow writer/director and frequent collaborator Noah Baumbach, it's hard to believe how much Mattel let them get away with, from the true digs at Barbie's often bizarre manufacturing history to the subversive speeches about the doll's twisted sense of body image and unattainable perfection.

With a not dissimilar narrative structure to The Lego Movie (also co-starring Ferrell in the real world), Barbie uses its long commercial history to put the pink-laden character into other aspects of pop culture iconography packaged in a contemporary sheen of progressive feminist political awareness.

Barbie is an amusing yet sharp exploration of gender inequality that never pulls its punches. While its themes of sexism and feminism are unsubtle, its earnest celebration of diversity and inclusion is hard not to admire. Robbie embodies both unrealistic feminine imagery and a path forward as an actual person with independent thoughts, talents, ambitions, and anxieties beyond her conventional beauty. All that said, the glossy film never goes too long without being joyously and consistently laugh-out-loud funny.

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