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Barbie film review: Is there enough wit and polish to justify all the hype?

Rave reviews as 'Barbie' hits the cinemas

How can you be a feminist and direct a Barbie movie? That was the real intrigue behind this pink tentpole extravaganza with Greta Gerwig attached.

Gerwig, a former actor who directed Lady Bird (2017) and co-wrote Barbie with partner Noah Baumbach, channels a modern-girl zeitgeist that would seem anathema to a film set in a plastic wonderland where feet are permanently arched and everyone waves a lot.

The thing is, even feminists once played with dolls, and the Barbie range has expanded from the stereotypical, perfect hourglass Barbie (a radiant Margot Robbie – could it ever have been anyone else?) to include all manner of colour, profession and ableness.

Poor pregnant Midge Barbie – played in a knowing piece of casting by Emerald Fennell, who wrote and directed Promising Young Woman ­– was discontinued but still hangs around.

In Barbieworld, women run the courts, do construction in pastel overalls, and have a Barbie President (black) with a constitution. They rule the world. Which leaves poor Ken (Ryan Gosling) as a nobody without Barbie. It’s Ken and Barbie, never just Ken.

Barbie’s existential choice

When Barbie starts having dark thoughts – death! cellulite! – she seeks help from Weird Barbie (Kate McKinnon), forced into splits and her moth-eaten haircut by an over-enthusiastic owner, who sends her into the real world.

Barbie’s existential choice? A pink satin stiletto or a Birkenstock. Wonderful.

In this film, women rule the world. Photo: Warner Bros.

While Barbie is sorting out the darkness and discovering not everyone loves her, Ken is reading up on the patriarchy and unleashes his inner male.

The plot is brilliant – female empowerment, the rise of toxic masculinity that subjugates women, female re-empowerment and, because they are wiser now, the liberation of Ken.

All this is so much fun, particularly when the Kens set up their man dens, drink beer and fall in love with horses. The Barbies pretend to play along, request a recap of The Godfather or knock on Ken’s door.

“Come inside and let me play the guitar at you,” Ken says. Four hours later, before a campfire on a beach, the Kens are still strumming.

The tone at times has the feeling of an old musical and an early number is a riot of dancefloor glitter. Later, when the forces of male aggression are unleashed, the Kens have a dance-off, all dressed in black.

There are laugh-out-loud moments and enough wit and visual polish to justify the hype. Ken’s developmental arc is played to perfection by Gosling, and the inspired casting includes French-British actor and Robbie lookalike Emma Mackey as a Barbie, and Mackey’s Sex Education series co-star (and the new Dr Who) Ncuti Gatwa as gay Ken.

And yet Gerwig and Baumbach mansplain everything!

No feel-good moment or informed observation about girls and their dreams is left unexamined, lest the film’s politics be misread as incorrect. But hang around; the final scene is so good it’s worth the wait.

Barbie is in cinemas now.

This originally appeared in InReview

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