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Barbie Review

July 24, 2023 | Posted by Rob Stewart
Barbie Image Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures
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Barbie Review  


One-hundred and fifty-plus million dollars.

With that figure, BarbieBARBIE! — has secured the best opening weekend of 2023, something that I doubt any honest person can say they saw coming when the year started.

I mean, I sure can’t. I was part of a Guess The Box Office movie draft for the Best Film Ever podcast back at the beginning of the year, and as I look down my draft list, I had Barbie projected as 10th highest grossing film of the year.

But that makes sense because I am historically awful at prognosticating things. If you ever see my making projections or predictions, you simply must bookmark them for us all to have a good laugh at later. It never stops me from doing it, though.

My co-worker asked me this past Friday if I was ready for fantasy football season and how I drafted; I noted I just go in and hope for the best because it’s never any worse than when I have meticulously prepared.

Regardless, Barbie had an amazing opening weekend, and based on the review scores, it appears like it will have some serious legs. Insert your own joke about how similar that makes it to its leading lady, Margot Robbie.

Barbie is the story of how the Barbie World is kind of a mirror dimension to our “real world”. Every type of Barbie exists there, and our star is Stereotypical Barbie (Margot Robbie). In Barbieland, the Barbies just kind of assume their existence has fixed everything in the real world! Girls must know they can do and achieve anything, and all of the problems and threats facing women have been eradicated. So the Barbies live every day in one glorious celebratory party.

That is until our lead Barbie starts experiencing things she never had before. Thoughts of deaths. Spoiled milk. Imperfect hair. Showers that aren’t the right temperature. And then the worst of all: her perfectly propped up feet fall flat to the floor (“If my feet were always shaped like this, I’d never wear heels!”).

With the sage advice/command of Weird Barbie, Stereotypical Barbie heads to The Real World to find the little girl who is playing with her. By working things out between them, Barbie can repair the rift between their worlds. As she leaves, her Ken (Ryan Gosling) tags along.

And it’s Barbie’s stowaway problem that sets up the major conflict for the rest of the movie…


+ To the surprise of no one, this movie has several genuinely funny, laugh-out-loud moments. From the aforementioned heels line to a hilarious Note To The Filmmakers that narrator Helen Mirren gives as the narrator to the out-of-nowhere choice of an anthem for the Kens that is going to tickle any 90’s kid in the audience. And let’s not discount Michael Cera as Allen (“I’m Ken’s friend; I can fit in all his clothes!”)

And on that humor front, Ryan Gosling shines. He has always been a low-key comedic dynamo when cast in those roles (see: The Nice Guys or Crazy Stupid Love), and he is predictably wonderful here.

+ Now what might be a surprise is the genuine sweetness and heart the movie has. Barbie has moments of struggling with who she is, what she is supposed to mean to the world, and what she has actually come to mean. Her sadness in the first act is superficial: she’s sad her feet touch the ground; she’s sad her life is changing and she is thinking of death for no reason. But by the later acts, her emotions are much more developed. She is torn between two worlds and isn’t sure where she belongs anymore.

Hell, that’s part of why Superman is one of my favorite characters. It’s a good story to tell!

By the time you get to the end, and Barbie is literally meeting her maker, the story gets you right in your emotional core. And it ends up being a tale anyone can relate to.

You undoubtedly remember from the trailers that Will Ferrell has a role in this movie as the CEO of Mattel itself, and he needs to figure out how and why Barbie has left Barbieland before it causes damage to both worlds.

The problem is that this storyline means virtually nothing, and it exists almost solely as a delivery vehicle for a few gags and to create an overly complicated way for Barbie to find the ghost of the doll line’s creator, Ruth Handler. But as Ferrell and his board of directors chase Barbie across both worlds, you keep waiting for them to impact… well, anything. But they never do! In such a smartly written script, the inclusion of this plot point feels like something Greta Gerwig and Noah Baumbach forgot to cut from an earlier version of the screenplay.

Barbie encounters a mother/daughter pair in the real world, Gloria and Sasha. They become her traveling companions, and it’s an emotional turn by the jaded and disaffected Sasha that leads to Barbie fixing the problems in Barbieland. And by doing so, Sasha also closes the distance between herself and her mom.

The problem is that little of that story feels earned. The story is SO Barbie-centric–and what isn’t about Barbie is mostly focused on Ryan Gosling goofing about as Ken–that Gloria and Sasha are never wholly developed. Their emotional resolution feels rushed, like it was included just to tick the box.

There is a really touching and poignant mother/daughter story here about Barbie bridging the gaps between women within a family, but the plot doesn’t actually seem to have time for it. Which is a shame.

The final score: review Very Good
The 411
Robbie and Gosling power an already potent story to amazing heights in what has to be the surprise movie of the year. The combination of humor and heart is marvelously handled, and everything here is just so much fun. Heck, I didn't even mention the songs! The music narrates moments of the film, and if you listen to the lyrics, you are in for a treat.

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Barbie, Rob Stewart