Barbie review: A delightful, barmy, pink-blush comedy
Greta Gerwig's irreverent take on the world’s most famous doll really is a bonkers movie.
Ever since those images of Margot Robbie and Ryan Gosling in luminous green and pink rollerblading gear dropped nearly a year ago, Barbie-fever has been escalating.
It’s easy to see why. An irreverent take on the world’s most famous doll – starring Robbie as Barbie and Gosling as her six-pack-perfect beau Ken – feels instantly appealing.
But is it just a one-joke outfit? Happily not. Director/co-writer Greta Gerwig has conjured a delightful, barmy, pink-blush comedy-musical that looks destined to be this summer’s must-see movie.
Narrated by Helen Mirren – who does plenty of fourth-wall-breaking, even referencing the casting of Robbie – the story begins in Barbieland. Robbie’s Barbie lives in her Dream House – which, true to the Mattel-made toy, is open plan. Every day, she showers (in no water), sips imaginary tea and parties with her fellow Barbies.
As for Ken? “Ken only has a good day if Barbie looks at him,” Mirren’s narrator explains. He’s also got all the other Kens to fend off, notably an athletic-looking iteration played by Simu Liu (of Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings fame).
Yet something isn’t right in this plastic paradise. The permanent arches of Barbie’s heels collapse, the first part of a meltdown/malfunction. It seems someone in the real world has been causing this disruption.
After taking advice from “Weird Barbie” (Kate McKinnon), a doll who has been permanently scarred, Robbie’s character must journey to Los Angeles and find the person causing this. But the moment she arrives, Barbie realises the truth: feminism does not rule the world like it does in Barbieland.
“You represent everything wrong with our culture,” screams Sasha (Ariana Greenblatt), the aggressive teenager that Barbie soon meets, and it’s here where the film gets interesting.
Gerwig and her co-writer/real-life partner Noah Baumbach (Frances Ha) use this bubble-gum blockbuster to tackle issues surrounding Barbie – the doll that personified perfection and swayed a generation or more.
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This might sound far too heavyweight for a summer movie, but Gerwig and Baumbach smuggle in those ideas so deftly, it never feels preachy.
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One of the best ideas comes as Ken joins Barbie on her LA jaunt and discovers something he’s never heard of before: the patriarchy. Not the brightest bulb, Ken believes it’s something to do with men and horses, but he soon takes the idea back to Barbieland, creating his own “Kendom”, as the Kens begin to assert their authority.
Meanwhile, Barbie ventures to Mattel HQ – where Will Ferrell’s CEO and his male-only board of 'yes men' are soon plotting to get her back in her box. Clearly, Gerwig and Baumbach are not afraid of biting the hand that feeds.
The comedy comes thick and fast, thanks to some tremendous performances. Ugly Betty star America Ferrera, as Sasha’s mother, gives a really forceful turn, while Michael Cera is just as special as Allan, Ken’s constantly ignored best friend (the real Allan doll was discontinued years ago).
Homegrown comedy fans will also have a ball. Three Sex Education alumni (Emma Mackey, Ncuti Gatwa and Connor Swindells) feature, alongside Derry Girls’ Nicola Coughlan. There’s even a glorious cameo – too good to spoil here – from one of our best-loved comic stars.
Amid the stunning pink-hued design (Barbieland really does look sensational), Barbie feels like being thrown into a child’s imagination. The way the characters travel to LA, for example – crossing oceans, forests and even space – is particularly charming.
And to top it all, the film is chock full of musical numbers. With Mark Ronson co-writing, the song I'm Just Ken, sung by the scene-stealing Gosling, is a stand-out, amid tunes from Dua Lipa, Lizzo and more.
It really is a bonkers movie, a toy box that stands proud in the Hollywood playroom.