Barbie (2023) Review

Warner Bros. has certainly pulled out all the stops as the studio reportedly spent US$100 million just for the marketing alone to make Barbie a must-see movie event. It also got me curious about this first-ever live-action Barbie movie, especially given all the talents involved with Greta Gerwig of Lady Bird and Little Women in charge of directing. The on-screen pairing of Margot Robbie and Ryan Gosling is also the highlight here. But for all the massive hype and anticipation, here lies the ultimate question: does it deliver?

The marketing push may have been admirable but upon finally watching Barbie in its entirety, it was a different story altogether. It does begin promisingly with the movie taking place in the predominantly pink world of Barbie Land. The setting from the iconic Dreamhouse sets to the fashionable costume design is undoubtedly a visual feast. From the moment Margot Robbie made her appearance as the titular Barbie, she definitely looks the part of a stereotypical life-sized doll of a woman. She seemingly has a perfect life with her fellow Barbies enjoying the same. Then, there are Kens, specifically the ones played by Ryan Gosling and Simu Liu as two rivals competing with each other to win over their favourite Robbie’s Barbie.

However, it doesn’t take long before Barbie wakes up one morning feeling different about herself. What should have been a flawless day as always turns into a series of disasters — everything from her morning shower to breakfast and worst of all, she finds herself having cellulite and even flat feet problems. This leads to her unlikely meet-up with “Weird Barbie” (Kate McKinnon), a less-than-perfect outcast who lives far away from the Barbie Land neighbourhood. Apparently, the solution to Barbie’s sudden problem is to make a trip to the real world. Let’s just say it has to do with a coming-of-age journey that Barbie also discovers Gosling’s Ken is tagging along for the ride.

A scene from "Barbie" (2023)

From there, the movie naturally moves on to the fish-out-of-a-water comedy situation as Barbie and Ken encounter people in the real world. It was unlike anything they have expected compared to the rose-tinted Barbie Land. The real world, by contrast, is a harsh and cruel place to be. This gives Gerwig and co-writer Noah Baumbach the opportunity to set up a what-if scenario revolving around the superficial Barbie and Ken trying to make sense of the real world. It contains a few worthwhile comedy moments, even though most of them are a hit-and-miss affair. I do appreciate some of the meta-movie references, covering the likes of Wizard of Oz to 2001: A Space Odyssey and The Godfather. At one point, the movie even poked fun at one of the ’90s famous rock band’s signature songs.

Robbie and particularly, the scene-stealing Gosling share good chemistry together. The introduction of America Ferrera’s Gloria, who is an assistant to Mattel’s CEO played by Will Ferrell in his typical man-child antic, serves as a supposedly crucial plot point that bridges between her own existence and Barbie’s self-discovery. This is where Gerwig and Baumbach try to get ambitious by incorporating various topical themes from feminism to inner beauty, double standards and gender disadvantages. They do so in a mix of satirical and statement-fueled ways of delivering the messages. And yet, for all the well-intended approach, I can’t help but feel as if they are desperately shoving their agendas down the throat to the point everything here is as preachy as it gets. This is especially true with the laborious third act that grows increasingly heavy-handed, making me wonder about their need of proving a point in an obvious manner.

Frankly, there’s nothing wrong with a Barbie movie that has a strong feminist spin since the brand itself is often associated with it. But if only Gerwig can execute the thematic storyline without collapsing under its own weight, the movie would have been an inspiring cinematic experience of a big-budget summer movie blockbuster. Speaking of the blockbuster, I find out this movie costs a whopping US$145 million to make. With such a cumbersome storyline that tries so hard to make this a unique movie, it remains to be seen whether Barbie can generate a sizable profit at the end of the day.