Director: Greta Gerwig
Production Company: HeyDay Films/Lucky Chap/Mattel Priductions
Distribution Company: Warner Brothers Films
One Sentence Synopsis: “Stereotypical Barbie lives in a perfect paradise with a rainbow coalition of other Barbies and Kens until she begins to find herself fixated on death and mortality, which leads to an existential crisis that only a multi-dimensional journey can fix.”
MPAA Rating: PG-13 due to suggestive themes, adult topics and humor
Release Date: July 21, 2023
Running Time: 114 minutes
Website: Click Here
Trailer: Click Here
Reviewed by: Megan Renee
Final Score: 5.0 Moons (out of 5)
When you review films outside of NYC or LA, early screenings aren’t an option, so your reviews end up being on the opening weekend. I have a favorite theater I love to go to when I watch movies opening weekend because it’s a vintage throwback. It’s in a small town and doesn’t even have reserved seating, which is never a problem, even with big superhero films, because I’ve never been there when they had over 20% capacity. With a projected $80-$100 million opening for Barbie, I had no doubt I could skip reserving seats at another theater and just drive on down to my preferred theater and stroll right in for the 7 pm showing on a Saturday night. (Fully decked out in pink because…well…when in Rome…)
You can imagine my shock when I drove all the way there to find the parking lot packed and no room left in the Barbie showing! That’s when I realized that Gerwig’s extremely edgy comedy that was supposed to be a surprisingly cutting satire might, in fact, be a bonafide smash hit! (See below this review for just how well this movie actually did.)*
I then spent the rest of the evening tracking down a seat at a theater I could actually reserve for a 10:40 pm showing. When I got there I was not at all disappointed and glad I didn’t try to push the review to the next weekend!
The tagline for the movie is:
“To live in Barbie Land is to be a perfect being in a perfect place. Unless you have a full-on existential crisis. Or you’re a Ken.”
That’s not a bad starting place.
My interpretation of the storyline is that it follows Stereotypical Barbie (Margot Robbie) and her best girlfriends as they live in a matriarchy where the male population, made up dominantly of Kens, serve as accessories and objects to accompany various Barbies. Her main companion and frenemy Beach Ken (Ryan Gosling) wants to have a real relationship with Barbie but she’s too busy with parties and girls nights and having her own space to let him in.
However, when Barbie starts to have an existential crisis about death, her perfect body begins to break down. The only solution is to see Weird Barbie (Kate McKinnon) who serves the role of a mystic in Barbieland, having achieved weird status by being played with too roughly by little girls. She then sends Barbie to the real world to track down the little girl who’s playing with her to try to get her to stop thinking about death so Barbie can return to her old, “perfect” life. Accompanying her, whether she wants him to or not, is Beach Ken who’s dying to show Barbie what he’s made of and win her affections.
While the basic storyline is the reluctant hero tale, the way it is done is impressive, as is the way they show just how reluctant Barbie is to change anything unless she absolutely has to.
The interaction between the different characters is well thought out and really delves into a lot of pathos, using extremes on both sides of the gender power debate to show the need for a more egalitarian system. The commentary on what it’s like to be a woman in America is excellent and, aside from a few comments that are a little too on the nose, manages to not be preachy, but also not afraid to take a stand.
I consider this to actually be a shockingly good counterpart to 1999’s cult classic, Fight Club, which looks at the problems of patriarchy from the perspective of men. Barbie looks at many of these same issues from the perspectives of women–while actually not excluding men from the discussion. (Fight Club is actually my favorite film of all time mostly because of its brutal exploration of society, so any comparison to a movie this pink actually shocks me to my core. But I’ve got to be honest–at least as I see it this soon after my first watchthrough–the comparison feels apt.)
I found the conclusion of the film to be really powerful as Barbie looks at what she truly wants out of life—and what happens when she makes choices beyond what her society has stated is acceptable. For me that question really resounded in my own personal journey of discovery.
Barbie is off the chain when it comes to presentation, from incredible Dreamhouse Sets that were largely practical, to whimsical waves and cycling dolphins that reminded me of Wes Anderson props, to crazy costumes that felt inspired by Tim Burton (if you swapped their palette from dominantly black to pink, of course), to giant dance numbers that reminded me of Busby Berkley, to psychedelic visions that made me think a bit of Fantasia and Dumbo, this is a movie that is a joy for the senses. Additionally, the inclusion of a vast array of actually produced by Mattel Barbie & Ken races and ethnicities, as well as a smattering of gender expressions and body sizes, helped poke some holes in my assumptions about the Barbie brand. (Gerwig also dug deep into Barbie’s back catalogue, bringing up deep cuts like Ken’s friend Allan, who could wear all of Ken’s clothes; Midge, whose magnetic pregnant belly could be removed to reveal an actual infant; and Growing Up Skipper, who would grow an inch and develop breasts if you rotated her left arm. Not since Lego Batman have I seen a filmmaker avail themselves so thoroughly of a company’s past work.)
The lighting and camerawork is smart and stylistic, while the music is insanely good and catchy throughout. The choreography was extremely impressive and makes me now very intrigued for Gerwig to actually do a true musical in the future. (Before finalizing this, I was listening through the soundtrack which brings a strangely upbeat ’80’s vibe and features nearly 50% non-caucasion singers, which is worth pointing out because of how most people, including myself, have tended to perceive Barbie-so-white in the past.)
The acting was quite strong throughout with Margot Robbie continuing to show us why she’s an Academy nominated actress in a role that could easily have been clunky or shallow if portrayed by a less skilled actor. Ryan Gosling does an amazing job of representing the counterpoint to Barbie’s status quo and his perception of patriarchy actually shines a pretty amazing light on why patriarchy has thrived as long as it has! (We included the video for his “I’m Just Ken” song further into the review. If you enjoy it, it’s over 3 times as long in the actual film and has additional visual commentary that’s caused the song to keep cycling in my head since I saw it.)
America Ferrera as Gloria, one of the few significant humans in the film, brings an excellent pathos and reality to the film that helps the audience stay grounded in what the filmmaker is trying to impart, while the brief uses of Will Ferrell as the head of Mattel bring both levity and ridiculousness that help point out issues in how our society responds to actual problems. (I’m quite impressed that Mattel was willing to let Gerwig lampoon them. That actually increases my respect for the brand that they didn’t get in Gerwig’s way as much as some other brands would have.)
As a trans woman who’s recently started writing for DGM, I knew that I wanted to cover Barbie based on the strength of two things: Greta Gerwig’s direction and Margot Robbie’s LuckyChap Entertainment helping to produce. I knew that with these two minds in play, we were in for something truly special.
A fact that would be cemented when Gerwig announced to CinemaCon Audiences earlier this year: “If you love Barbie, then this is the movie for you. If you HATE Barbie, this is the movie for you.” Not since Deadpool with its irreverent take on Fox and the X-men have I seen a filmmaker and star send up more of the products they are connected to than Barbie does! And it’s not just to prove they can–every time they do it, it is to make the movie and the story better and more accessible.
I would clarify it more like this: if you want to see a scathing satire of our society in the mindset of Jonathan Swift while still retaining some heart and hope, then this is a movie that is for you! Everything you have EVER hated about the little plastic figurine Mattel produces is pointed out, lampooned, and then worked through in a surprisingly heartfelt way. (The fake Mattel ad midway through for Depressed Neurotic Barbie who weeps while she anxiously doomscrolls instagram almost had me on the floor.)
As a long time reader of DGM before I became a writer here, I would definitely say that Gerwig’s dark sensibilities bring a satirical comedy you’ll really enjoy–that will also make you think about not just your assumptions about Barbie, but about society in general.
Is Barbie a perfect film? Of course not. There are some places that could’ve been tweaked and sanded to the benefit of the film—but, if they were so refined, would they also have sanded down and minimized the big swings that hit, as well? As I think back on the film, I suspect it would. As such, for my taste, I think this may not be a perfect film, but it is actually perfect for the subject matter they were exploring—which is entirely too perfect. The imperfections in the film allow this story to breathe in a holistic way with the subject matter.
Theme: 5.0 Moons (out of 5)
Presentation: 5.0 Moons (out of 5)
Audience Fit: 5.0 Moons (out of 5)
Final Score (not an average): 5.0 Moons (out of 5)
*When I said that I thought Barbie might be a bonafide smash, I had no idea what I would discover when the trades came out today. Industry analysts (who tend to be correct within 10-20% of their projections most of the time) estimated $80-$100 million for Barbie this past weekend.
It made $162 million—which is double the low estimate! (For comparison, the smash Marvel film, The Avengers—which had multiple solo films leading up to the first ever team up—made a staggering $207 million opening weekend. To be $40 million away from that on a solo film with no momentum built from other films in a series is jaw dropping!)
Barbie was so popular, in fact, that analysts are saying that $5 million of Oppenheimer’s opening wasn’t BarbenHeimer people (folks who intentionally watch a double header of Barbie & Oppenheimer, of which over 100k fell into that camp); it was people who just couldn’t get into Barbie and came to Oppenheimer instead.
Oppenheimer was estimated to make $40-$50 million. It made $82 million—again, double the low projection and easily the biggest film of Nolan’s career that did not have the Batman in it.
Together, Variety reported that this past weekend was the 4th most profitable in Hollywood History. (The three weekends that were more profitable all featured major studio sequels in: Avengers: Infinity War, Avengers: Endgame, and Star Wars: The Force Awakens.)