Margot Robbie stars as Mattel’s fashion doll Barbie, and Ryan Gosling is the Ken doll in director Greta Gerwig’s excellent and creative film. The fantasy comedy movie is based on the dolls from the Mattel Toy company that began in 1959. Until then, most of the dolls in the world were baby dolls, which young girls fed, rocked, and cared for to prepare them for motherhood. The mature Barbie doll, with perfect boobs, long legs, and a beautiful face, rocked the world of play for little girls worldwide, including mine, as I loved playing with and principally remembered loved changing their outfits.
Noticeably, the creation of this movie based on a worldwide phenomenon had to be a huge weight as so much was at stake here in getting Barbie and Ken as real people right. I’m here to say that Gerwig has gotten it right, and her film has surpassed my expectations. So much care and thought went into considering the themes of gender roles, diversity, and, most of all, self-worth. Don’t even get me started on the eye-popping, gorgeous look of the film, as set designer Sarah Greenwood’s vision is front and center and nearly serves as another character. The same holds true for the costuming as Academy Award-winning Jacqueline Durran and the hair and makeup team create astonishing, unique visuals for each character.
Barbie and Ken live in Barbie-land, an idyllic place with no gravity, wind, rain, or sun. We are introduced to this world and view the feelings of contentment among all the Barbies although Ken, is not thrilled with playing second fiddle to all the Barbies. Fairly quickly, Barbie finds her world changing, she falls off her roof, and her feet become flat, she’s told to visit “weird Barbie,” a hysterical Kate McKinnon, for answers. She’s advised to visit the real world, and Ken follows her. Together they seek out answers to their existence yet discover a very different world of role reversals than their own. One of my favorite scenes is when Ken walks into the city with large buildings wearing his cowboy outfit, as shades of “Midnight Cowboy” come to mind; yes, he’s a fish out of water, although he’s learning about a patriarchal society; one in which he takes a liking too.
Barbie’s journey continues as she tries to find her owner who played with her, who is changing her world with unhappy thoughts. America Ferrera, from the TV show “Ugly Betty” (2006-2010), carries the film’s arch becoming Barbie’s guide and champion to finding her true self. Her performance was incredible and it was wonderful to see her in this nurturing role.
Helen Mirren’s voiceover guides us through the film; there are odes to Barbie’s creator Ruth Handler, who named the doll after her daughter Barbara. Look for Ann Roth in the film, the Academy Award-winning costume designer, as she has a poignant scene with Barbie regarding elderly aging. You’ll also appreciate seeing all of the different Barbies in their roles, in particular, President Barbie (Issa Rae), who answers with “No Comment,” along with Physicist Barbie (Emma Mackey) and Doctor Barbie (Hari Nef).
Yes, the Barbies are front and center in their “Turman Show” world, yet Gerwig and her writing partner Noah Baumbach flush out Ken’s story with incredible thought and care. Ryan Gosling gives one of the best performances of his career in the film, proving to all he’s not just a pretty-faced guy. He rocked the role; his roll-over eye smirks, his adoring looks at Barbie, and his fantastic singing and dance numbers were all spot on. His serious self-doubt scenes had me tearing up, as did my friend who attended the screening with me.
And yes, Robbie carries the movie from start to finish; the Academy Award-winning “I Tonya” owned the role. Hands up, it’s the most creative, fun-loving, serious, and heartfelt movie I’ve seen this year! Greta Gerwig provides a cultured interpretation of being a woman in an imaginary, perfect world. Margot Robbie and Ryan Gosling shine brightly in their roles, and Oscar should be in their future. The entire cast explodes with energy, as the song and dance numbers are expectational, not to mention the fantastic musical score, costume design, sets, hair, and makeup. All aspects of the film are winners here.
Sarah Knight Adamson© July 18, 2023