Barbie is so Much More Than A Campy Film Wrapped in a Glittery, Glamorous Package

Review of Barbie 

It’s hard to pinpoint when exactly the hype for the Barbie movie began considering the multiple promising attachments the film had secured, generating massive conversation even before the first teaser trailer dropped in late 2022. 

The very idea of a live-action film depicting the various intricacies and complexities of the massive toy icon is already compelling but perhaps what skyrocketed the film’s anticipation the most was the announcement that acclaimed director Greta Gerwig would be directing the project.

Fans were also immediately drawn when teaser images were shown of bombshell actress Margot Robbie embodying Barbie to a tee with her curly blonde hair and her bright smile while gripping the steering wheel of a bubblegum pink car.

There of course also was the fact that in addition to Robbie as the titular character, the film would have one of the most stacked casts of the year featuring Ryan Gosling, Simu Liu, Issa Rae, America Ferrara, Will Ferrell, Michael Cera, and so many more.

By the time the official trailer dropped, Barbie fans and movie fans were stoked for what was projected to be the biggest release of the summer. Many rushed to theaters sporting all pink or replicating some of Barbie and Ken’s most iconic outfits, dolls in hand to watch the film.

In addition to Barbie, Christopher Nolan’s new historical drama Oppenheimer debuted on the same day, dubbing July 21 “Barbenheimer” day, and considering all the hype for the two movies throughout the duration of July, its safe to say that the middle of summer was a “Barbenheimer” month. 

As expected, Barbie smashed box office records being the highest grossing female-directed film of all time, the highest grossing film based on a toy of all time, and the highest grossing opening weekend of 2023 thus far, beating out The Super Mario Bros. Movie

But did Barbie live up to the critical hype? If you ask the majority of fans, yes, if you ask right-wing conservative men on Twitter, no. 

Being a franchise with a cultural identity interlaced with archetypal conventions of femininity, it’s no surprise that Barbie tackled themes of womanhood, motherhood, gender identity, double standards, and the dangers of the patriarchy. 

The film isn’t subtle about its message, though it utilizes both humor and heart to illustrate its themes and never comes off as too heavy-handed. Many watchers have found themselves tearing up at America Ferrara’s monologue addressing the everyday pressures of womanhood.

Ryan Gosling expertly portrays a struggling Ken as he longs to be more than Barbie’s accessory and validated as his own person. Though Ken’s journey definitely contains endless joke material, it discusses toxic masculinity and male fragility in a mature light. Proving that despite what many Barbie haters say, the movie is not anti-men.

The film does recognize the more problematic aspects of the idea of Barbie however. When Barbie first enters the real world she converses with a group of teenage girls who oddly enough are all named after MGA’s Bratz dolls. A known rival of Barbie/Mattel. 

The leader of the group Sasha (Ariana Greenblatt) rips into Barbie telling her that she’s been making women feel bad about themselves for decades and that she simply exists as a marketing scheme to propel conventional notions of beauty.

Hailing from the glittery, matriarchal Barbieland our heroine is shocked and devastated and later spirals as she realizes that she’s only ever been recognized stereotypical blonde-haired blue-eyed Barbie.

This ties into another extremely thoughtful theme about women constantly having to aspire for something larger than just simply being themself while men on the other hand are not expected to express themselves in overt ways.

Barbie at its core is a film about the various layers of humanity as we watch the most conventionally attractive, stereotypical figure of femininity find herself beyond what she’s been pigeonholed as.

In addition to the meaningful commentary, Barbie is probably one of the funniest movies you’ll see this year with amazing comedic timing radiating in every scene. Ryan Gosling, Kate Mckinnon, Simu Liu, and Will Ferrell are particular comedic standouts with their over the top performances.

Margot Robbie also delivers the quintessential Barbie performance as she takes viewers on Barbie’s introspective emotional rollercoaster and meets characters that might be familiar to die-hard Barbie fans along the way that serve as some of the film’s most tender moments. 

Even in just the first teaser image, it was clear that the sets, costume design, and soundtrack would be off the charts. Gerwig and the film’s production designer Sarah Greenwood even mentioned that construction of the Barbieland set contributed to a shortage of a certain shade of pink. 

As Anticipated, Barbieland did not disappoint with its crystal blue skies, wallless and doorless dream houses perfectly emulating the famous playsets, and a pastel pink beach where the Barbies, Kens, and Allan spend their perfect days lounging and getting into beach-offs.

When we venture to the real world, the color scheme dulls, representing the fantasy-like reality where Barbie comes from and contrasting it with the bleak realities of our world.

The Mattel headquarters office is probably the most creative non-color inundated set as its gridlocked cubicles cements the feeling of an inescapable corporate hell-scape. One that Barbie must flee from to avoid being “boxed-in” by the Mattel Execs.

Many are surprised by the mostly negative light Mattel is portrayed in being that the company was heavily involved with the production of the film. Others have pointed out that this supposed self-awareness is just another performative activism marketing scheme to sell more dolls. 

This seems to be the case as a variety of dolls were released to celebrate (and capitalize off of) the movie’s release. 4 Margot Robbie Barbie dolls have been released as well as three Kens, (Simu Liu and 2 of Ryan Gosling) Issa Rae’s President Barbie, and America Ferrara’s Gloria.

There’s also been rumors of Barbie and Ken to be released in their rollerblading outfits. Fans have also expressed wanting a doll of Michael Cera’s Allan and Kate Mckinnon’s Weird Barbie. 

Alongside the dolls, AMC Theaters sparked outrage after offering a limited edition pink corvette popcorn holder with the Perfect Day Barbie doll included-for almost $70. Barbie may contain a capitalistic doomsday setting but the film’s profitability absolutely contributes to its existence. 

The car chase scene involving Gloria, Sasha, and Barbie might give viewers an odd sense of deja-vu as it was literally plucked from the movie to advertise the new Chevrolet, a joint commercial of sorts once again proving Barbie’s monetary value does not go unnoticed. 

Barbie is so much more than a toy commercial however, as the film offers real substance in every frame, delivering an original story to a simultaneously loved and hated fashion icon. 

The trailer proclaimed that whether you hated or loved Barbie this movie was for you, and though slightly misdirecting as Barbie fans are certainly more likely to enjoy the film, there is valid criticism about the contradictions of the toy being a powerful tool for young girls while projecting unrealistic standards onto them.

All in all, Barbie encourages us to be happy with ourselves but also to question our contentment with who and what we are. It asks us not to lose our imagination and creativity even in a world where it seems inaccessible at times.

Most importantly, Barbie reminds us to think pink in a world of grey and to treasure all the little moments in our lives, both small and extraordinary.