One of the biggest questions I’ve had to ask myself after watching Barbie is how you’d even review it. Through an incredibly powerful media campaign and an overwhelming flow of Kenergy from Ryan Gosling, it’s hard to say you’ve not at least heard of it in some way.
Yet, having just come out of the cinema, I’m constantly struggling to convey my thoughts on it. Barbie is nothing short of a masterpiece, like a pink cue ball pocketing the 8 on break. From its indulgent set design to its meta humor that actually works to its ability to drop the humor and tell an existentialist story, there’s never a moment that the movie ever loses its momentum.
If you’ve seen any of the trailers, its plot is hardly surprising- Barbie goes to the real world and learns a lesson. It’s a tried-and-true formula for the brand-as-movie concept. Yet, rather than be content to just have a color-by-numbers plot about being yourself, Greta Gerwig grabs the plastic steering wheel of this car and just takes it to so many fun and real places.
Nothing in the movie particularly makes sense- the highlights are the characters of Barbie World, who do everything to call back to your own memory of playing with dolls from floating down to the ground floor or sick float-flips, they’ve even extended some of this wackiness to the real-world characters too. They’ve solved the biggest problem of this mini-genre, which is that the real world segments are always boring, and just made it not only functional to the story, but also actually fun to watch.
I know some seasoned MCU-style watchers may complain that there’s a lack of any “lore dumps” for how anything works. But if you watched something like The LEGO Movie and didn’t think too much on that then you’ll probably be just fine with Barbie, too. For Barbie, the rules of the world only exist if they serve it’s story- and that’s what makes it so good. There’s no “plot holes” or other such YouTube bait, it’s just a matter of telling the story it wants to tell.
And What A Story, Huh?
Of course, I really want to reveal as little about the plot of Barbie as I can while still making a convincing argument for it being peak cinema. It’s not just your typical girlboss movie- the entire studio was able to look so much further into the weeds of what it wants to say, and explore those concepts. There’s discussion about the experiences of being a woman and it’s miserable and raw and ultimately, familiar.
Despite that it never gets particularly drab about its criticisms, either. The entire production team has taken an amazing amount of effort to make even the plot live up to the standards women are subjected to every day: It’s not preachy, or too shallow. It’s strong, but not in ways that someone might roll their eyes at it.
Barbie herself isn’t some desk-smashing girlboss who breaks out into judo moves. Instead, the movie is incredibly sincere and honest- it keeps its scope much smaller to feeling like a story about a personal revelation, set against a critique of the world around it rather than being about saving the world (even if that does actually happen).
That’s pretty much where all my love for this movie comes from. Yes, it features a mom and her daughter patching up their relationship, but that’s more of a side-effect of the rest of the journey. It’s a Barbie movie, it’s Barbie’s movie. At its climax, there’s no mortal peril to the real world we have to pretend to care about- it’s just Barbie’s own personal revelations and her relationships that’s at play.
It matters that these revelations are simultaneously deeper than “Be yourself” while stopping just short of “Tears in the rain”. It’s not like Greta Gerwig was the only person to ask “what if children’s thing but deep?”. The magic instead comes from how Barbie approaches these- it’s still perfectly showable to children, with nothing bad like sex or gore. I don’t think I would have liked this movie if it was Alan Moore’s Barbie, but the idea to combine Barbie with mature subject matter is honestly more inspired than many would give it credit for. The movie’s ending itself almost feels Yoko Taro esque in its pondering, to the point I was worried that someone had secretly deleted my save file.
It’s not all highbrow and avant-garde, either. The cast have an electrifying chemistry with each other, from Barbie and Ken to Ken and Ken to even Will Ferrel and an entire boardroom of suits. It’s so much to think about, yes, but it’s also so much fun.
What really ties this whole movie together is its complete and utter commitment to its set design. Barbie World is a visual delight, full of pink houses with no walls and neon rollerskates and, of course, Beach. Seeing things like clinics open up from an ambulance, you can see just how much thought and love went into this movie.
That’s not to say it goes away in the real world segments either- like I said, nothing about it has to make sense, and as a result every set looks so interesting for it. Mattel HQ looks like something out of the Matrix- and the sheer amount of comic exaggeration in everything corporate-related is enough to make you downright giggle.
When you mix that with the things that the movie does, like incredibly choreographed dance numbers, the aforementioned Barbie-floating-down scenes and, no cap, one of the best musical breaks ever produced, you get a wholly enjoyable experience. There are sure to be people who don’t like how irreverent and weird Barbie is, sure. For some people, they might have just been happy with another reverse isekai. But for those of you who are prepared to see a beloved children’s icon think about things like death, patriarchy and, ultimately, existence itself, you’re in for one of 2023’s absolute highlights.
Early screening provided by Warner Bros. Malaysia
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