She’s a Barbie girl in the Barbie World. Life in plastic—its fantastic. Yes, Barbie on the big screen is finally here! Considered one of the most anticipated films of 2023, Margot Robbie steps into the iconic heels of “typical” Barbie for this one-of-a-kind film about Mattel’s legendary toy doll.
Now, bringing Barbie to the big screen has not been easy. The film has had multiple writers and directors and even at one point had Amy Schumer playing Barbie, but all of that changed when Margot Robbie was cast in the lead role in 2019. The momentum kept growing when it was announced that Oscar darling and “Ladybird” director Greta Gerwig would take on the daunting task of bringing Barbie to life with the help from her longtime partner, Noah Baumbach, co-screenwriting with her. Subsequently, the excitement for the film spiked again when Ryan Gosling signed onto the film in 2022 to play Ken. The film is also produced by British film producer David Jonathan Heyman, who brought the Harry Potter film series to life. Margot Robbie is also listed as a producer as well.
The film tells the story of “typical” Barbie, played by Robbie, who sets out on a quest for the real world after experiencing “being less than perfect” in perfect Barbie Land. Accompanying her on this journey of self-discovery is her longtime boyfriend Ken, played by Gosling. The film also stars America Ferrera as a Mattel employee who helps Barbie in the real world and Will Ferrell as the over-the-top Mattel’s CEO. Likewise, Kate McKinnon plays Weird Barbie, while Issa Rae plays President Barbie and Simu Liu as another Ken. Rounding out the cast Rhea Perlman plays Ruth Handler, the creator of the Barbie doll.
The film is slightly in the vein of campy like other toy movies, in which an iconic toy brands breaching the big screen, such as Transformers and the Lego movies. However, this film, with Gerwig at the helm, comes out swinging right from the beginning being extremely feminist centric, but in a tongue and cheek way giving Barbie the credit for solving feminism and females’ issues in society. #JustJoking #JustNotInTheRealWorld While in Barbie Land, like Beyoncé sings, “Who runs the world? Girls!,” the real world hasn’t really embraced all that girls can be like it is in Barbie Land.
In Barbie Land we find a Barbie president, Barbie doctors, Barbie astronauts, Barbie reporters, and all the Barbie’s own their own dream homes, while Kens seem to be OK on the beach, not surfing, not as lifeguards, but just hanging out on the beach. Every day seems great until typical Barbie has an existential crisis and realizes she’s not perfect. Her shower is cold, she has bad breath, her milk is expired, and her toast is burnt, but worst of all her feet are flat and she discovers she has cellulite after falling off her roof all while obsessing over death. It’s at this time that she enlists the help from Weird Barbie, who guides her to the real world. In the real world she realizes that all the dreams that little girls had and who they wanted to be were very far from the truth. Donning her iconic rollerblades with canon toe she happens upon a construction site expecting to find hard-core female construction workers only to be mocked and cat called. She is shocked that the real world is a lot less female friendly than Barbie Land.
Upon her arrival into the real world, Mattel is alerted to the situation and acts quickly given what happened to Skipper several years prior in the Florida Keys. Mattel quickly tries to get Barbie back into the box but being a quick one she escapes into the care of a Mattel employee, who played with her as a child. With Barbie on the run, the Mattel employee and her daughter join Barbie in return to Barbie Land only to realize that Ken had returned before them and brought back a concept called patriarchy, which saw all the Barbies give up their power in order to appease their oppressors a.k.a. the Ken dolls. Barbies dream House is turned into mojo dojo casa house and is full of horses and beer drinking boys. It is at this time that Barbie hatches a plan to release her fellow dolls from their brainwashing and to take back Barbie Land. Not long after their plan is hatched, Mattel employees venture into Barbie land as well. The Barbies work together to free Barbie land from patriarchy and to return it to its previous prosperity. Upon successfully doing so Barbie is revisited by Ruth the creator of the Barbie doll. After speaking with Ruth, Barbie realizes that she wants more from this life then Barbie Land can offer and she sets out to find it.
The strength of the film comes from its clever messaging. Its tongue and cheek depiction of what we would like reality to be a.k.a. Barbie Land and what it really is– the real world, insightfully comments on humans’ innate ability to better themselves. The film is cleverly written for an open-minded audience seeking more than mere mindless entertainment but the movie is packaged in a way that is just the opposite i.e., a pure spectacle of cheerful escapism. For example, while moviegoers may be frustrated at the depiction of Ken as an over the top clingy, whiny, complaining character, who lacks depth, it is obvious when you take a step back that his character is an homage to that one-dimensional female character, seen so often in film, who lacks depth that would resemble a real human being. The cleverness of the film continues and its campy exploration of bringing fun whimsical Barbie notions into the real world, such as joking about how Mattel is led only by men even though it is a brand that is female centric. It just goes to show you how Mattel is not only willing to poke fun at itself but to be the butt of jokes. The movie also tackles troubling issues like how Barbie is designed in an unrealistic way with the perfect proportions that no woman can actually obtain. There also is a joke mid film delivered by the narrator played by the one and only Helen Mirren that jokes about Margot Robbie’s casting that is sure to get an audience to laugh. There are also other heartwarming moments like America Ferrera’s speech to the Barbies, in which she highlights the struggles of women and their inability to accept themselves in their quest for acceptance. There’re so many poignant moments in this film however it does seem that there is a bit too many messages leaving the film slightly convoluted at times. That being said the film is visually a feast for the eyes and certainly entertaining when it comes to comedy. It does what a movie should do; it entertains and inspires and that is why it’s so amazing to see Barbie on the big screen in this way.
Barbie hit theaters on July 21st, 2023 in US theaters.