Barbie (2023)

Rating: ***
Review Date: 7/23/23
Director: Greta Gerwig
Writer: Greta Gerwig
Cast: Margot Robbie, Ryan Gosling, America Ferrera, Ariana Greenblatt, Simu Liu, Will Ferrell, Rhea Perlman, Alexandra Shipp, Issa Rae, Kate McKinnon, Michael Cera, John Cena, Helen Mirren

"Goodnight Barbies! I'm definitely not thinking about death anymore!"

Everything is perfect in Barbie Land, where women rule all and men have absolutely no value. Life is a non-stop party of happiness, friendship, and positivity, unless you happen to be a Ken. One day, Stereotypical Barbie (Margot Robbie) starts malfunctioning, creating a rift between Barbie Land and The Real World. In order to return to normal, she travels to The Real World and learns the ugly truth about her existence.

While being marketed as a comedy, it's really an existential nightmare about the horrors of womanhood and the crushing weight of patriarchism. In the unforgiving hellscape of The Real World, Barbie faces fear, anxiety, objectification, and crippling self-doubt, while Ken (Ryan Gosling) discovers beer, self-worth, and testosterone-fueled violence. Writer/director Greta Gerwig deftly swings an enormous blunt hammer to ensure that nothing is lost to subtlety, and the only respite from the depressing bleakness and terror of it all are the brightly colored musical numbers that occasionally show up. It's an insightful and brutally savage social satire, whose pent-up anger and frustrations are just barely hidden behind fake smiles and a facade of pink and neon. It's a strong contender for "feel-bad movie of the year," and makes you want to slit your wrists in despair after watching it.

"Barbie" is a good-looking and well-made film, and its production actually caused a worldwide shortage of pink paint. The bright and cheery colors enforce the idyllic beauty and innocence of Barbie Land, which is later despoiled by the poisonous influences of The Real World. The visual effects are delightfully and intentionally tacky, which also adds a sense of fun to Barbie Land. Margot Robbie gives a marvelously heartbreaking and soul-crushing performance as Barbie, which left me in tears for several hours after the movie ended. Ryan Gosling gives an outstanding performance as an emasculated Ken who is corrupted by power and lashes out with hormonal rage, threatening all of Barbie Land with his toxic behavior. And while the film preaches exactly the opposite, Barbie is ultimately blamed for Ken acting the way he does. Simu Liu is wonderful as Gosling's rival Ken, and Ariana Greenblatt gives a chilling performance as a moody and disaffected teenage girl who hates everything that Barbie represents. The entire cast does a fantastic job of bringing this complicated and conflicted feminist fable to life and supporting its powerful message, but sometimes the message gets lost in the surreal presentation.

What's interesting is that I heard a group of young women talking after the film, saying that they couldn't relate to any of it. I could interpret this two different ways: 1) That there's hope for the future of gender equality and that we're moving in the right direction, or 2) that they were too young and naïve to have firsthand experience with the cruelty, prejudice, and injustice of the real world. I really hope it's the former, but I fear it's the latter.