The Barbie movie written by Greta Gerwig and Noah Baumbach is the best screenplay of the year so far. It’s a surprisingly profound film wrapped in a pink and plastic veneer. Gerwig and Baumbach have a lot to say about feminism, gender relations, and a deep love of cinema with great jokes about 2001, The Godfather, and even Zack Snyder’s cut of the Justice League. It’s funny, it’s subversive, it’s got a lot to say, and it’s a film that will be studied for years to come.
The film starts with Stereotypical Barbie (Margot Robbie) having a perfect day in Barbie Land, because every day is perfect. She showers with no water, chooses the perfect pink dress, simply floats down to her Barbie car, and greets all the other barbies and Kens in Barbie Land. The world runs on female energy and women serve every possible function, including scientists, doctors, Presidents, and Supreme Court Justices. Women can be anything they want here and it’s perfect. Ken pines for Barbie’s attention since he doesn’t think he exists without her. He gets jealous when every night is girls night at the Dream House, and when she greets other Kens.
A beach house party with choreographed dancing is suddenly interrupted when Stereotypical Barbie questions if anyone else but her thinks about death. She laughs it off, but things in Barbie Land are not perfect anymore. The next morning, she doesn’t wake up refreshed, she isn’t wearing pink, her breakfast is burned, the imaginary milk is spoiled, and her feet go flat. She’s filled with lingering dread, and to solve what is happening, she must visit Weird Barbie (Kate McKinnon) and is told she must travel to the real world to find the girl who owns her version of Barbie. Her human is having these emotions and somehow are causing Stereotypical Barbie to feel them too.
Barbie is nervous to travel to the real world, but she’s also excited because thanks to her and all the other Barbies, women run the real world and it’s perfect there too. Boy, is she in for a surprise.
Ken joins Barbie and they head to the real world by driving her pink car, flying by rocket, camping in an RV, riding tandem bikes, sailing in a ship, and roller blading to the mystical land of California.
During the movie, Barbie learns that she must change even when it’s scary and daunting, because it’s necessary. Perfection is an unrealistic and undesirable goal. Gerwig subversively explores issues of feminism, and patriarchy which you don’t expect in a movie about a children’s doll, but the screenwriters manage to wrap their message in levity and camp. It’s gentle poking while still being sincere to the message of finding yourself and finding balance in your life. Barbie doesn’t need Ken, but she needs to find herself and the same goes for Ken.
Robbie is a remarkable actress and brings real commitment to her character, creating a real depth and complexity to Barbie. In the hands of a lesser actor, Barbie could have been as simple and plastic as the doll she’s playing. The rest of the cast is stellar with Ryan Gossling bringing so much humor and equal depth and complexity to Ken, America Ferrera who gets a monologue that will be quoted by women for decades to come, Michael Cera, Simu Liu, Will Ferrell, and more all delivering compelling performances.
Sarah Greenwood brings insanely beautiful production design that meshes perfectly with Jacqueline Durran’s spot on costuming. Each set piece is thoughtfully designed, each costume is exquisitely tailored, and they create a world the actors and the audience easily get lost inside.
The film is getting a lot of criticism from conservative men, and it is so amusing that a film co-written by a woman, directed by a woman, produced by women, made for a female audience is being criticized for having a female point of view. Fragile men are burning Barbie dolls on BBQ grills, and are upset that women AND men are dressing in pink, applauding and laughing for a film where both women AND men collaboratively fix their own communities. They each learn lessons that only by understanding and loving themselves, can we create a future where everyone actively participates in creating a better world for everyone.
Barbie reminds me of The Lego Movie, which could have been a simple cash grab, but instead has something to say about the human condition. It’s remarkable that a film this smart, this subversive, this clever was released by Mattel and Warner Brothers. It challenges the audience to reconsider their understanding and acceptance of societal norms and expectations. Its central character may be made of plastic, but this is a film about the human condition, which explores our strengths and our flaws. It’s a reminder that even a fun summer movie can have real depth and open us up to reflection and conversation. Gerwig has crafted a movie that explores identity, societal structures, gender roles, and asks us to have the courage to embrace change, and to love ourselves and others. It’s deeply relatable, even for this 48 year old male. It’s simply one of the best films of the year. Grade – A