Don’t let “Barbie’s” dreamy, Day-Glo visuals fool you.
The film runs on hate, not affection.
“Barbie,” inspired by the Mattel toy dating back to 1959, loathes men to a degree that would make a Women’s Studies major blush. It hates the Barbie toy itself, dubbing it “fascist” and worse throughout the film.
“Barbie” also hates women with sweet memories of the doll. Just know you supported the “Patriarchy” all those years ago. And maybe even now.
That leaves an ambitious film, scattered with well-earned laughs, that disintegrates during a disastrous third act.
“Barbie” opens with a clever conceit. What if Barbie Land existed as another universe alongside our real, imperfect world? The toys-as-people conceit is funny at first but quickly loses steam.
Stereotypical Barbie, played with panache by Margot Robbie, suddenly finds herself victim to feelings from that other realm. She thinks about death, for starters, interrupting the dreamy existence everyone enjoys in Barbie Land.
Except the men. The various Kens, led by Ryan Gosling, are there to be either ogled or ignored. Mostly the latter.
This Uber-feminist world has no need, desire or empathy for Ken Nation. And the lads are perfectly content because they don’t know any better.
When Barbie and Ken leave their world to visit the Real one, everything changes. Ken discovers the Patriarchy, and he likes it! (The screenplay mentions the “patriarchy” 10 times… 10!) Barbie encounters rampant sexism, like AMC’s “Mad Men” on steroids.
Had “Barbie” been set in the 1950s some of this would make sense.
Mattel has enlisted not only Greta Gerwig but also A-listers ranging from Vin Diesel (Rock ’Em Sock ’Em Robots) to Lena Dunham (Polly Pocket). J.J. Abrams is making “Hot Wheels,” which he insists will be “emotional and grounded and gritty.” https://t.co/SuZ6VdfNqh
— The New Yorker (@NewYorker) July 11, 2023
Can Barbie learn why her perfect life is now not so ideal? Will Ken bring the Patriarchy back home? Will a movie that starts with promise curdle during the critical third act?
The answer to the latter, sadly, is “absolutely.”
That’s a shame since director/co-writer Greta Gerwig establishes inventive ways to bring the toy franchise to life. She even drops references to actual Barbie accessories during the film and uncorks a funny faux commercial about a new, “depressed” Barbie doll option.
The production design is sublime. If “Barbie” were an old home you’d say it had “good bones.”
Gerwig, along with collaborator Noah Baumbach, have an agenda to push that drains the joy from their creation time after time. And it starts from the opening minutes with a cringe-worthy close-up of the all-female Supreme Court (where’s Amy Coney Barrett?).
Feminism! Empowerment! Down with the Patriarchy!
Every time the film gains momentum it pauses to make a mini-speech The characters can’t move beyond these moments because there’s always another minutes away.
It’s the perfect encapsulation of woke storytelling. The AgendaTM matters more than the narrative and mustn’t be denied.
“Barbie” could still offer powerful points about sexism in the western world with a less heavy-handed approach. Show, don’t tell. Instead, it tells, and tells, until the story has nowhere to go. That leaves a finale brimming with poorly choreographed fight scenes, dance numbers that make no sense and conclusions that feel almost anti-human.
This movie hates men so much it hurts. Even a key character’s husband is emasculated in his fleeting screen time by both his wife and daughter.
Gosling’s Ken is alternately cruel and dopey, drowning in a sea of masculine cliches. The rest of the Kens appear, well, gay and equally devoid of any inner life.
Of course, we can’t have so much as a flicker of romance between Robbie’s Barbie and Gosling’s Ken. Ewwwww, gross! That’s not empowering … at all!
“I don’t want you here,” Robbie’s Barbie flat-out tells him at one point. Never mind that little girls bought millions of Ken dolls so their Barbie could have a romance for the ages.
That doesn’t further THIS agenda, so it’s discarded.
America Ferrera, cast as a mother pining for her Barbie-infused youth, delivers a TED talk late in the film that gives the game away. It’s a feminist screed that regurgitates everything said up until that point.
It stops the movie. Cold. “Barbie” never recovers. How could it?
Ferrera’s daughter isn’t exactly pleased to meet Barbie in real life, or are we reading lines like this wrong?
“You represent everything wrong with our culture. You destroyed the planet with your glorification of rampant consumerism … you fascist!”
Oh, and please buy Mattel products after seeing our new movie!
Will Ferrell looks lost as the Mattel CEO trying to track down the runaway Barbie. Is he a cold, cunning capitalist? A man sworn to uphold the Barbie legacy? A male feminist eager to make the world a better place?
Darned if Gerwig and Baumbach can tell, leaving the great comic actor lurching from scene to scene in utter confusion.
The only thing missing from “Barbie?” Those blood-red Handmaid’s Tale costumes. They’re saving those for the sequel, most likely.
HiT or Miss: “Barbie” smartly adapts the iconic toy to the big screen but does everything in its power to destroy it.