Wednesday, July 19, 2023

Review: BARBIE

 by Rob DiCristino

“It is literally impossible to be a woman.”

“Does anyone ever think about death?” asks Barbie (Margot Robbie), bringing an abrupt halt to one of the impromptu dance parties that make life in the aptly-named “Barbie Land” so whimsically magical. They don’t, she discovers. Not once. Not ever. Actually, despite their wide range of career opportunities and extracurricular pursuits — the local Dreamhouses are a densely-populated cornucopia of chefs, doctors, Supreme Court Justices, pop stars, astrophysicists, and Ken (Ryan Gosling), whose profession is defined simply as “beach” — the plastic denizens of Barbie Land don’t seem to have much of anything on their minds at all. Every day is the best day ever, isn’t it? Why would they busy themselves with existential purpose when there are volleyball matches to be played and glittered sports cars to be driven? Barbie Land is an ideal, a universe in which women are celebrated for their agency and beauty in equal measure. Here, our Barbie is in complete control of her perfect life. What more could a woman possibly ask for?
Still, once that seed of doubt is planted, it’s hard to go back to girls’ nights and surf contests. Barbie — known in the neighborhood as “Stereotypical Barbie” — is starting to notice the cracks in that perfection. She burns her toast. Her shower is cold. Her feet, usually pointed upright to accommodate a variety of high-heeled shoes, are suddenly resting flat on the ground. Introspection! Cellulite! What’s going on? The other Barbies (including Issa Rae as President Barbie, Emma Mackey as Physicist Barbie, and Dua Lipa as Mermaid Barbie) fear she is malfunctioning and advise her to seek the counsel of Weird Barbie (Kate McKinnon), a misshapen outcast on the edge of town. She tells our Barbie that these feelings are reflections of those experienced by the little girl playing with her in the real world. To set things right, Barbie must travel to that world, find the girl (Ariana Greenblatt as Sasha), and remind her that there’s nothing to be sad about; Thanks to Barbie, all women live stress-free lives of confidence, admiration, and respect. Right?

And so goes Greta Gerwig’s Barbie, a predictably sharp and often hilarious satire that celebrates the cultural ubiquity of Mattel’s flagship franchise while directly confronting the ways it has crippled feminism, promoted conspicuous consumption, and intentionally reinforced a patriarchal model of society in which women are literal accessories to the men who hold all the real power. Co-writers Gerwig and Noah Baumbach are gleeful and ruthless in their assault, presenting a heroine who has been so numbed by opulent privilege that the mere suggestion that she may, in fact, be bad for women — outlined in a ferocious tirade from tween Sasha — sends her spiraling even further into crisis. An already precarious situation is complicated when Ken, who joins Barbie on her adventure because he lacks any semblance of identity without her, discovers a world that blindly empowers men regardless of their abilities. He, in turn, transforms Barbie Land into his Kendom, where men — and horses, apparently — are in charge.
While this may sound complex and off-putting to audiences simply hoping to indulge in the same childhood nostalgia offered by other franchise adaptations, rest assured that Gerwig and her team giddily indulge us with a dazzling pastel world sure to please even the most eagle-eyed Barbie obsessives. There’s a delightful artificiality to the clothing and hairstyles, all the way down to parts in Robbie’s wigs that mimic the mechanical threading of her vinyl counterparts. Longtime fans and collectors will spot references to each and every era (era), even those forgotten and discontinued models like Sugar Daddy Ken and Barbie’s pregnant friend, Midge (“These were actual dolls!” a character laments in disbelief). While unequivocally critical of Mattel’s shortcomings — Will Ferrell leads its all-male executive board, and Barbie creator Ruth Handler even admits to committing tax fraud — the film is chiefly and fiercely protective of Barbie’s role in a young girl’s development. Is she complicated? Yes. Is she essential? She just may be.
It’s this embrace of complexity that makes Barbie a success on par with cousins like Toy Story and The Lego Movie, texts that acknowledge the powerlessness of childhood (or, in this case, femininity) while also standing in awe of the unbridled power of imagination. Though conservative critics will clamor to dismiss the film as “woke” and “anti-male” — whatever those words even mean anymore — anyone actually paying attention will find a joyous reverie of individual empowerment that recalls one of Barbie’s foundational messages: If you can dream it, you can be it. Robbie, Gosling, and the rest of the cast (including Simu Liu as a rival Ken and America Ferrara as Sasha’s mother, Gloria) are colorful and spectacular, clearly game to bring Gerwig’s thoughtful and explosive vision to life. Though Barbie is sure to challenge a general audience expecting a more conventional adventure like The Super Mario Bros. Movie, it’s also glitzier, more glamorous, and far more pink than anything else you’ll see this summer.

Barbie hits theaters on Friday, July 21st.

No comments:

Post a Comment