Review by Sean Boelman
Barbie is the rare studio film that will unite both cinephiles and mainstream audiences, as it’s ambitious, entertaining, and exactly what everyone had hoped for considering the talent involved. It’s maybe one of the most audacious, edgy, and creative blockbusters of all time, and while it doesn’t always work, it's an absolute smash when it does.
The film follows “Stereotypical Barbie” as she begins to question her identity, sending her on a journey to explore the real world. One of the most surprising things about this marketing campaign is how much effort they’ve done to obscure the film’s story in the trailers and such — and it was a wise choice, as the film has more than a few surprises in store.
The humor in the film presents a nice mix of the slapstick humor one expects to find in a family-oriented film with double entendres, some really funny political jokes, and a nice dose of existential dread. And while the trailers revealed some of the film’s funniest jokes, they’re almost all from the first act — there’s an entire two thirds of brilliant jokes that are allowed to be left unspoiled.
If there is one thing that Barbie has always been about, it’s imagination — and Gerwig has managed to create what might be the most imaginative studio film of the 21st century. The level of ambition on display in both the storytelling and visuals is truly astounding. However, the end product does end up feeling a little overstuffed, particularly because there are so many distinct threads of conflict that don’t entirely gel together.
However, Gerwig and Baumbach’s script takes what could have been a silly premise and turns it into a sharp commentary on patriarchy and womanhood. Although a bit on the nose at times — one monologue by America Ferrara’s character about what it means to be a woman in today’s society brings the house down, and rightfully so — the film also offers some incredibly insightful satire, yet maintains its emotional heart throughout. It’s also shockingly anti-capitalist for a film based on a toy brand.
Of course, Margot Robbie and Ryan Gosling absolutely shine in their roles, but one would expect no less — they are perfect casting choices for their respective characters. Their chemistry together is also fantastic and surprisingly complicated. Other highlights in the cast include Simu Liu and Kingsley Ben-Adir as other Kens, Issa Rae as another Barbie, and Michael Cera in an often-scene stealing turn as Ken’s buddy Allan.
From a technical standpoint, the film is absolutely fantastic — but no one has expected any less since the first look images were released. The production design and costuming are on point, using color in brilliant and creative ways. The soundtrack is also fantastic, boasting some great songs both diegetically and non-diegetically, with one of the highlights being the contributions by Lizzo.
Barbie has been one of the most hyped up movies of the year, and many will be pleased to learn that — for the most part — it lives up to the hype. To think… we almost got a version of this that was a starring vehicle for Amy Schumer instead of the vision we received from Greta Gerwig.
Barbie hits theaters on July 21.