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  • Colin Fraser


THREE AND A HALF STARS Barbie suffers an existential crisis and throws all of Barbie World into a tailspin.


Starring Margot Robbie, Ryan Gosling

Life in plastic is fantastic. At least it is for Stereotypical Barbie (you know, the one we all think of when we think of Barbie) until she start get feelings, feelings that something isn’t quite right in the world. Existential dread in fact, one so fierce that even the local shrink (Weird Barbie) can’t fix. And so it’s off to the Real World to find out why the person who’s playing with her, whose feelings she seem to be, er, feeling, are so sad, so bad. Ever the optimist, Barbie decides she’ll tickle them pink and fix everything. With that in mind she loads up the Barbie car and heads for Venice Beach with one of the Kens along for the ride.

With me so far? BARBIE, as envisioned by Margot Robbie and Greta Gerwig (LADYBIRD) requires a massive leap to get in on the über-meta-feminist joke but once you do (and you will), you’re in on a riot of unexpectedly intelligent filmmaking. Not that that should be a surprise, Gerwig has form, but the base concept - Barbie walks and talks - simply reeks of corporate and product placement. It’s not the space where you’d typically find progressive, creative freedom, especially the kind that mocks and frequently assaults its maker. Mattel sits front and centre, coping a fair amount of abuse as pushers of a toy that is essentially a byword for sexism and misogyny, right?

Well yes and no. Granted the impossibly structured doll comes complete with a long history of unrealistic, damaging self-image expectations. On the other hand, Doctor Barbie, President Barbie, Psychologist Barbie (I could be making that one up) and the entire universe of Barbie achievers inform their owners, both boys and girls, that they can do, can be, anything. Just like Barbie, right?

Well sort of. There are conditions to being a Barbie (an impossible waistline being one of them - one of the film’s best self-deprecating zingers as it turns out) and much of that troubling detail is either sidelined or co-opted to the bigger story. With deft slight of hand, Gerwig and Robbie slide around such concerns, stay with their big idea and turn the ‘feminist’ heat to nuclear. That laboured Barbienhiemer joke notwithstanding, there’s a delightful Trojan Horse aspect to the film that will not be lost on many. It’s a big part of the film’s appeal I’m sure, and why it continues to be one of the Saviours Of Cinema in 2023.

Meanwhile, back on screen, Ken learns he can be a ‘real man’ in the Real World and takes his findings back to Barbie World where he teaches other Kens how to be a bogans, er, men. For a bewildering period BARBIE turns into an inescapably thrilling soft-rock musical as the boys Kenscape Barbie World and the Barbies also turn bogan; adoring, simpering fans of their menfolk. Thus it’s up to Stereotypical Barbie, with help from Weird Barbie, her Real World friends and (weirdly) the board of Mattel, to undo the corruption, save the day, reset the Barbies and restore the matriarchy. If you’ve got this far you’ll see why BARBIE is nothing if not fantastic.

Robbie is a gift in the lead role but she’s far from alone. Ryan Gosling all but goes on a scene-stealing bender as Primary Ken while a glittery cast includes Due Lipa, Emma Mackey, Rhea Perlman, Helen Mirren, Will Ferrell and Michael Cera as Discontinued Alan who pop up like fizzy pink fireworks throughout.

BARBIE is smart, fun and shows us how we can do, and be, whatever we want. We don’t have to give in to stereotypes, we can be our best possible self, and we can do it while looking great! (And yes, I do mean BARBIE the movie, not the doll).


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