With gorgeous animation and a compelling plot, Greta Gerwig’s fantasy adventure Barbie whisks you off on a journey of friendship, bravery, and self-discovery. She sprinkles her magic dust all over the film, turning it into a witty, empowering, and surprisingly relatable ride. The filmmaker not only entertains viewers but also subtly delivers the message of staying true to oneself. Through the straightforward tale of a young girl, the film cleverly touches upon themes of identity and societal pressures. And by doing so, Barbie appeals to viewers across ages, and allows them to empathize with its characters.
The story is set in Barbieland, a matriarchal society where our titular character, the Stereotypical Barbie (Margot Robbie), lives with other Barbies. Women here aren’t just sitting on the sidelines. They’re rocking it to the top and slaying it in their fields. They’re breaking barriers and shattering glass ceilings. Barbieland is a powerhouse of fabulous, unstoppable women, who’re encouraged to pursue their passions, embrace their uniqueness, and support each other. There’s no room for cattiness or competition. Stereotypical Ken (Ryan Gosling) is stereotypically Barbie’s boyfriend, and head over heels for her. But Barbie? Well, she’s all about that single life, hanging out with her gal pals, and soaking up her freedom.
On a fateful night at a dance party, out of the blue, Stereotypical Barbie is overcome by the fear of death. The next day, she realizes she’s unable to do her usual tasks anymore. Even her skin and hair are no longer blemish-free. She runs into the local outcast, Weird Barbie (Kate McKinnon), who tells her that to get rid of her strange ailment, she needs to step into the real world. But as she ventures into the real world, she discovers its complexities and bitter realities that she was ignorant about.
When the CEO of Mattel (Will Ferrell), the company that makes these dolls, learns that Barbie is in the real world, he orders his executives to lock her up to protect their carefully constructed image and brand. The rest of the film deals with how Barbie overcomes the obstacles and realizes that her pursuit of conformity and perfection is hindering her from finding true happiness and embracing her individuality.
Over the years, Barbie has been presented to society as the epitome of beauty and perfection. She represents societal expectations and standards for young girls and is considered to have recognizable blonde hair and a perfect body. Challenging these traditional notions of femininity and the objectification of women, Gerwig’s film stands out in a commendable way. She uses Barbie as a symbol of rebellion and dismantles the disconnect between those who hold the power to make decisions and the lived experiences of women. In a symbolic gesture illustrating the deeper issues of patriarchy, she infects Barbie with cellulite, highlighting that the problem extends beyond mere physical appearances like her feet. Through her lens, the color ‘pink’ invites viewers to question societal norms and consider the impact of gender inequality on individuals and communities. Even the smallest props and background elements are tinted pink. This deliberate decision enhances the surreal and fantastical atmosphere of the movie.
Gerwig’s protagonist endures a grueling journey, teaching us to embrace flaws rather than escape them without shame. She portrays Barbie not only as a fashion-forward and stylish character but also as intelligent, kind, and fiercely independent. It sends a powerful message to young and adult audiences that beauty and intelligence are equally important qualities to cherish.
The screenplay of the film, written by Grewig and Noah Baumbach, lends depth to each of the characters, bringing diversity, representation and strengthening the film’s message of acceptance and individuality. The dialogues captivate and immerse audiences in a world of imagination and emotion. Dua Lipa, Nicki Minaj, and Billie Eilish’s songs, complemented by graceful choreography, skillfully propel the story, resulting in a memorable and engrossing experience. It all comes brilliantly together, helping us overlook some predictable plot points, while surrendering to the characters and the story.
The attention to detail in every aspect of the production, from the stunning set designs (Sarah Greenwood) to the flawless selection of the costumes (Jacqueline Durran), is fascinating. Nick Houy’s editing achieves the right timing and rhythm, with every shot seamlessly transitioning into the next, enhancing the overall viewing experience. Rodrigo Prieto’s mindful framing makes brilliant use of vivid imagery to create a variety of moods and capture the essence of the story in a visually stunning way.
Margot Robbie flawlessly embodies the charm and charisma of the iconic doll, stunningly showcasing her remarkable talent. With her flawless attention to detail, she captivates audiences and gives her role a befitting sense of genuineness. As Ken, Ryan Gosling proves his versatility as an actor, demonstrating his ability to infuse depth and intricacy into any character he takes on.
The chemistry between Robbie and Gosling is palpable, adding a deeper level of authenticity to their quest for self-awareness and redemption.
This is one of the best films of 2023. From start to finish, Barbie keeps viewers on the edge of their seats with its fast-paced plot and unexpected twists. The film seamlessly blends comedy, romance, and action, inspiring us to embrace the power of critical thinking, while giving us hope that there are boundless possibilities beyond traditional choices.
FTII alumnus and freelance writer. My articles have appeared in Scroll.in, The Hindu, Livemint.com, The Quint, The Tribune, Upperstall, among other publications.