Adventure Barbie

Review: ‘Barbie’ Brings the Iconic Toy Brand to Eye-Popping Life While Serving Up a Poignant Message About Misogyny and Toxic Masculinity

July 18, 2023Ben MK

When you think of trend-setting fashion brands, you might think of such names as Chanel, Gucci or Louis Vuitton. However, when it comes to brands that have influenced the fashion sensibilities of young girls for generations, there's one name that might surprise, and that's Barbie. For over 60 years, the star of Mattel's bestselling doll line has served as a role model, style icon and even a best friend for millions of impressionable children around the world. And now, thanks to writer-director Greta Gerwig, Barbie is finally making her long-awaited live-action debut, as Margot Robbie and Ryan Gosling step into the pastel-themed footwear of America's number-one sweethearts, Barbie and Ken.

The story of one Barbie's journey of self-discovery and one Ken's quest to woo the love of his life, Barbie follows Barbie (Robbie), who happens to be the most stereotypical Barbie in the picture-perfect plastic paradise that is Barbieland, where she and her fellow Barbies like President Barbie (Issa Rae), Nobel-prize-winner Barbie (Alexandra Shipp) and Mermaid Barbie (Dua Lipa) and their fellow Kens like stereotypical Ken (Gosling) and Asian Ken (Simu Liu), not to mention Ken's friend Allan (Michael Cera), live. It's a magical place where women rule everything and where every night is girl's night. However, when Barbie starts experiencing some very un-Barbie-like thoughts, it opens up a potentially apocalyptic rift between Barbieland and the real world — one that, according to Barbieland's resident soothsayer, Weird Barbie (Kate McKinnon), can only be closed if Barbie travels to the real world (or California, to be precise) to find the little girl who's been playing with her.

Of course, stereotypical Ken isn't one to let Barbie make her way to the real world on her own. However, when the pair arrive in sunny, modern-day California, they soon discover that the real world — full of all its sexism and patriarchal ways — isn't at all what they thought it would be. It's a shockingly eye-opening slap in the face that hits both Barbie and Ken differently, giving Barbie her first genuine taste of what it's truly like to be a woman while tempting Ken with the notion of what he and his fellow Ken's lives could be like if men ruled the world. But when Ken decides to go back to Barbieland with plans to overturn the completely female-led government and turn it into his own personal Ken-dom, it's up to Barbie, a beleaguered Mattel employee named Gloria (America Ferrera) and Gloria's angsty tween daughter, Sasha (Ariana Greenblatt), to take charge and save the day.

Throw in a hilariously desperate plan by the CEO of Mattel (Will Ferrell) to gather his top male executives and try to stop the planet's population from finding out about Barbie and Ken's sudden, life-sized appearance in the real world, and there's no shortage of comedic fodder for Gerwig and co-writer Noah Baumbach to play with. Still, what makes Barbie special isn't its commitment to replicating the pink plastic perfection of Barbieland and its like-minded inhabitants, but the message of the film itself. Suffice to say, whether you're a Barbie fan or not, it's impossible not to empathize with these characters and relate to the movie's themes about gender stereotypes, misogyny and toxic male culture. At the heart of it all, though, it all comes down to the universal question of what it means to be human. And despite basically being a tale about dolls, that's where Barbie excels.

Uproariously funny yet achingly heartfelt, the result is a crowd-pleasing blockbuster that wows moviegoers with its fun and colorful visuals, dazzling pop soundtrack and star-studded cast, while also walloping viewers with a timely reminder about how much work still needs to be done to bring about gender equality in the workplace and beyond. And although it's entirely possible to fully enjoy Barbie at a superficial level, it would be a shame for women not to walk away feeling empowered, whereas men should come away feeling the need to do better.

Barbie releases July 21st, 2023 from Warner Bros. Pictures. The film has an MPAA rating of PG-13 for suggestive references and brief language. Its runtime is 1 hr. 54 min.

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