- Warning: Minor spoilers ahead of “Barbie,” which hits theaters July 21.
- Ryan Gosling gives an outstanding performance as Ken, a comical himbo who struggles with Barbie’s affections.
- “Barbie” provides intelligent commentary, but does not offer solutions to the real-world issues it presents.
Whether you love or hate Barbie, Warner Bros.’ Mattel’s long-awaited celebration of giant dolls has something for everyone.
In development for almost ten years“Barbie” manages to traverse a lively film full of many Easter eggs and nods to the doll’s 64-year history to make a second watch with a self-critical piece necessary for those who believe that Barbie is harmful to feminism.
Much of the film’s adult humor will surely go over the heads of younger viewers, but at its most basic, director Greta Gerwig’s “Barbie” is fun, taking viewers on an emotional rollercoaster while delivering real joy one moment before they put up a longing. the next, at times channeling live-action “Toy Story.”
It’s a summer delight with more than one memorable musical number from its star Ryan Gosling, as well as clever needle drops from the likes of Dua Lipa, Charlie XCX, Matchbox Twentyand more thanks to the movies star-studded soundtrack.
Unfortunately, the film’s larger commentary on how men and women are treated differently falls short of offering any inspiring solutions, although its introspection is much deeper than one would expect from a summer blockbuster about an iconic doll.
‘Barbie’ has a wilder and more existential plot than trailers suggest
Beginning in the fictional Barbie Land, every Barbie and Ken lives under the false impression that “all feminism’s problems are solved” in the real world. Since women hold all the power as president, doctors, Supreme Court justices, and homeowners in Barbie Land, they assume the same philosophy applies outside their fictional paradise.
The Kens, led by Gosling and Simu Liu, exist only to serve their Barbie and live in her shadow.
When “Stereotypical Barbie” (Margot Robbie) begins to malfunction – developing cellulite, existential thoughts about death, and lonely flat feet – she sets out in real life with Ken (Gosling) to set things right. However, unexpected discoveries in Los Angeles make them question everything.
Barbie is horrified to learn that women don’t run the world, as she is told and objectified. Emotionally, Barbie grapples with having a purpose, and what if she isn’t making the world a better place and instead makes girls internalize unrealistic beauty standards. (Yes, this movie goes deep.) The emotional distress of Robbie’s soul is palpable as Barbie has an existential crisis.
Ken Gosling is having a blast though. Excited to gain respect for himself for the first time in his life, he becomes so obsessed with the idea of patriarchy that he introduces the concept to Barbie Land, with disastrous results. It is then up to Barbie – already overwhelmed by the harsh reality of men ruling the real world – to bring back Barbie Land before it too is destroyed and ruled by men.
There was something incredibly ironic about Barbies and Kens fighting for their right to be heard in a fictional land of writers, directors and actors just a few blocks down the street outside Warner Bros.’ studio, hit on the same thing in Hollywood. (An Insider screening earlier in the week was moved from the Warner Bros. studio lot before the SAG-AFTRA strike.)
‘Barbie’ isn’t afraid to take shots at her parent company, Mattel, which makes it worth watching
Despite being filled with Easter eggs for fans, the film is simultaneously self-critical of its legacy.
Although the trailers bubblegum and ubiquitous marketing campaign viewers may be convinced they’re tuning in to see a great movie about the doll, “Barbie” isn’t afraid to tackle its controversial past by drawing attention to and poking fun at retired and canceled Barbies , including Sugar Daddy Ken and a Doll skipper who grew her breasts with the twist of a hand.
The film even makes fun of the creator of the original Barbie legal troubles.
Ryan Gosling’s Kenergy is the MVP of ‘Barbie’
Everyone from Michael Cera as Ken Allan’s friend to Kate McKinnon as Weird Barbie (a doll played with a bit too much passion) is perfectly cast. And, of course, there’s Robbie, whose features make her look as if she was conceived by Mattel themselves.
But it’s Gosling who knocks it out of the park as a jealous dab in his pursuit of Barbie’s affection. Like an actual Ken doll, Ken Gosling doesn’t feel seen, appreciated or respected in a world full of Barbies. He is always in competition with Ken Simu Liu, who gets under his skin very well.
And yes, for those who were wondering, Gosling is so shirtless in “Barbie” it borders on disturbing. His washboard abs get almost as much screen time as his bleach blonde hair.
Gosling’s scene-stealing moments come late in the film, when he will sings and dances in a musical montage with the Kens. The number is equally funny and heartfelt, making it impossible not to feel sad when Ken Gosling sings, “I’m just Ken. Remembering Gosling the early days of Mickey Mouse Clubit’s one of the best moments in any movie so far in 2023.
Another highlight of the film comes from America Ferrera, who plays a mother who gives a bleak feminist speech. Listing the many unrealistic expectations placed on women, it’s hard to imagine that the scene won’t touch every grown woman sitting in theaters. (The result of the scene was me and the two women sitting on either side of me silently wiping tears from our eyes.)
It is not clear what message ‘Barbie’ is trying to deliver
By the end of its 114-minute running time, the film “Barbie” transforms from a film that shows the struggles of being a woman and coming together to overcome the patriarchy (at least fictionally) to one that evokes sympathy. even with Ken. he becomes a misguided dobo antagonist for the film temporarily.
Often, it feels like you’re watching at least two (albeit very good) competing movies – one Barbie and one Ken. Because of that, it is difficult to synthesize the message from “Barbie.”
“Barbie” offers a lot of big ideas to think about, but frustratingly fails to stick to any possible solutions.
Are women supposed to feel empowered to overthrow men? It’s hard to buy that when Barbie sees how real life treats women, at first she retreats from reality to the comfort of her own fictional safe haven.
Are we supposed to want equality for men and women? The only narrative line that is true for both Barbie and Ken is that they both want to be admired and seen: Barbie in the real world, and Ken in the fictional. But it’s also hard to buy this because, without spoiling, the end of the film undermines this message.
Ultimately, the film serves as a harsh reminder that Ken is just “just Ken” in fictional Barbie Land. In real life, it’s everything. It is women who are “just Barbie.” Barbie can be just about everything in the fictional world we imagine. And the film offers very little about what we can do about it, encouraging its audience to confront that dark reality instead of confronting it entirely, as Billie Eilish said. “What Did I Become?“ plays over the film’s credits.
Also starring Will Ferrell, Issa Rae, Kingsley Ben-Adir, and Emma Mackey, “Barbie” is in theaters Friday.