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Barbie – Film Review

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barbie film review
Barbie – Film Review

It feels odd watching Barbie now. It’s like arriving as an evening guest to a wedding. The big event has happened, everyone’s talking about the stuff that you missed, and there’s a lingering sense of a success that you weren’t part of. But if you’re catching Barbie for the first time on the Microsoft Store, then don’t worry: this is an after-party that absolutely retains the ability to surprise.

The big one, the surprise that no one told us about, is how much of an all-sensory experience it is. We knew that it would be a feast for the eyes – that much was clear from the trailers – but it didn’t leave a part of our body untouched (in a good way). It’s got a killer soundtrack (‘I’m Just Ken’ is going to rattle around your cage for a while), it’s got a surprising range of emotional gut punches, and it’s an intellectual powerhouse too. It’s a full body workout, and we were exhausted after watching it. Again, in a good way.

The plot takes the alternate path to the one that Super Mario Bros took. Rather than immerse the audience in the world of its franchise, it goes full meta. Like The Lego Movie before it, Barbie wants to explore all the facets of its doll: what it’s like to be Barbie, what it’s like to make Barbies, and what it’s like to own and be inspired by Barbies. It’s the full 360 experience.

So, we meet Barbie (Margot Robbie) who lives in Barbieland, a giant playset of every Barbie that was ever created. Everyone is a Barbie or Ken, or a fringe release from the back catalogue. If Barbie doesn’t win an Oscar for set design, then something has gone horrifically wrong with the world, because it’s a stunning, hilarious creation. Everything looks made from toy store plastic, and we can recall a fair few of the sets from the shops (we didn’t own any ourselves, honest). This is faithful and wondrously garish.

Life in Barbieland is perfect, until ‘Stereotypical’ Barbie (that’s Robbie) starts going weird, as the other Barbies call it. Her feet go flat to the ground, she ruminates about her own mortality, and she gains – gulp – cellulite. A visit to the only other ‘weird’ Barbie reveals the movie’s mission: she needs to head to the real world and find the young girl who is playing with her. That young girl is clearly in need of help.

Stowing away is Ken (Ryan Gosling), who thoroughly steals the entire movie, which might be a problem considering the message that Barbie eventually weaves. Ken only exists to magnify Barbie, and the trip to the real world makes him realise that it doesn’t have to be this way. He brings some ideas from the real world back to Barbieland, and the result is a very special kind of plastic anarchy. We’ve already said too much, but know that it leads to some hilariously unhinged moments completely lacking self consciousness and dignity.

Barbie is hilarious. It’s not the funniest film we’ve seen this year – Dungeons & Dragons: Honour Among Thieves has that privilege – but it mines some thick comedy veins. There’s the usual fish out of water stuff, but there’s the inverse too, as very adult, very real ideas are brought back and reinterpreted by the dolls in their world – badly. It throws a mirror up to the ridiculousness of what we do and believe.

It’s at this point that Barbie completely blindsided us, because it has a message, and that message had me and my wife pausing to have a bit of a heart to heart (don’t worry, we’re fine). It’s got important things to say about the expectations felt by women, often unnoticed by men, and how much of a burden that can place. A stupendous speech by Gloria (America Ferreira) is the anchor for this, and will undoubtedly be quoted for years.

We didn’t expect Barbie of all movies to get us dewy-eyed and talking seriously about the world. By all accounts, it’s doing something similar to others, so hopefully there’s some positive change that can come of it. 

Something worth noting is how Barbie didn’t quite work for all of us. We took the leap and showed it to our kids – eight and five – who are huge Barbie fans, and they were switched off throughout. This is an incredibly talky movie with high-minded ideals that can woosh right over their heads. It’s a shame that Barbie can’t be as cross generational as The Lego Movie, say, as it’s a movie based on their favourite toys, after all. So, while it might not be rude or violent (not in the way you might expect, at least), it’s not one that everyone will enjoy – at least in our experience.

It might just be us, but there was an occasional lurch into silliness that undermined things on occasion. The Mattel CEO (Will Ferrell) is the main proponent of this, and while it’s bold of Mattel to send themselves up like this, it also could have been more believable. They feel more like caricatures from Barbieland than actual people, and it grated for us, at least. 

But that shouldn’t detract from a creative, inspiring and hilarious movie that deserves all the hype it’s getting. Don’t make the mistake of expecting a family movie or an easy watch: Barbie is far more weighty and satisfying than the lightweight plastic might imply. Now we wait for more films based on toys, completely misunderstanding why this one was so great.

SUMMARY

Pros:
  • Frigging hilarious
  • Carries a valuable message
  • Ken (and I’m Just Ken) are so memorable
  • Set design is spectacular
Cons:
  • Out of reach for children
  • Tone skips about on occasion
Info:
  • Purchased by TXH
  • Running time and release date - 1hr 54mins | 2023
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<b>Pros:</b> <ul> <li>Frigging hilarious</li> <li>Carries a valuable message</li> <li>Ken (and I’m Just Ken) are so memorable</li> <li>Set design is spectacular</li> </ul> <b>Cons:</b> <ul> <li>Out of reach for children</li> <li>Tone skips about on occasion</li> </ul> <b>Info:</b> <ul> <li>Purchased by TXH</li> <li>Running time and release date - 1hr 54mins | 2023 </ul>Barbie - Film Review
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