Whether you love Barbie or hate Barbie, you can’t escape one of the biggest movies of the summer. (Literally. The marketing is next level.) So, as we finally head into the much-anticipated Barbenheimer weekend, does Barbie live up to its sparkly pink hype?
Welcome to Barbieland
So by now you’ve probably gotten a decent look at Barbieland thanks to the trailers and promos for the film. But if you had any doubt, let me assure you – the production design for Barbie is incredible.
The commitment to bringing Mattel’s iconic doll (and her many iterations) and her accessories to life for this film is outstanding. From Barbie’s Dream House to her camper van, every bit of pink plastic pops. Similarly, every fun, bright-colored costume screams “Barbie.” Many of them take clothes from actual Barbie dolls and bring them to life, so you may even spot a familiar look.
But your immersion into Barbieland goes even deeper, with the movie making many specific nods to the dolls and how people play with them. You’ll notice all the Barbies and Kens drink from empty cups, float down from second-story buildings instead of using the stairs, flip through the air for dramatic injury scenes, walk on arched feet without bending at the knees, and more. Barbie is undoubtedly one of the most impressive, immersive worlds to come to life on screen.
This Barbie gives amazing performances!
Beyond its perfect pink world, Barbie also packs pitch-perfect performances. Margot Robbie brings plenty of heart to her version of Barbie (who, if you’re wondering, identifies as “Stereotypical Barbie,” aka what you think of when you think of a Barbie). She’s a delight to watch, whether she’s cheerfully greeting her fellow Barbies, experiencing her first Real Emotion, or suddenly undergoing an existential crisis.
America Ferrera proves an unexpected but delightfully strong presence in the movie. We didn’t get much of her character in the promos for Barbie, so I didn’t realize what a pivotal role she would play. The movie wouldn’t work without her. At one point, Ferrera delivers a killer monologue that left my theater cheering, galvanizing Barbies and humans alike.
Will Ferrell and Kate McKinnon bring their unique brands of humor and physicality to their roles as Mattel’s CEO and “Weird Barbie.” Simu Liu’s Ken has a fun rivalry with Ryan Gosling’s Ken. And Gosling himself? Talk about Ken-ergy! Gosling gives it his all and looks like he’s having the time of his life.
This Barbie juggles unfair and unrealistic standards for women!
Admittedly, Barbie isn’t subtle about its gender politics. (The film’s villain is literally the patriarchy.) I see why this could rub some people the wrong way or come off as “preachy.” But I think it’s just a heighted approach that reflects Barbie’s heightened world.
One of the reasons Barbie works so well is that it’s incredibly self-aware. Do you think Barbie is fun, timeless, and an expression of women’s multi-faceted potential? Or do you think Barbie represents merely commercialization and the perpetuation of unrealistic beauty standards? The movie introduces you to people who come at the doll from both viewpoints.
And these dual beliefs about Barbie – whether she’s helpful or harmful, whether she’s something to celebrate or shun – dovetail nicely with the film’s exploration of what it means to be a woman. Specifically, how women feel constantly pressured to thread the needle, never being too much or too little of any one trait… And how that struggle always feels like a losing game.
(Is that part of why the existential dread kicks in? This Barbie has anxiety!)
This Barbie knows how to have fun!
Beyond everything I’ve already talked about, there are plenty of little odds and ends bringing joy and laughter to Barbie. Helen Mirren’s occasionally meta narration. Rhea Perlman popping up as Ruth Handler, the real life inventor of the Barbie doll. Tongue-in-cheek nods to Mattel’s infamous flops in the Barbie-sphere, including pregnant Midge, “sugar daddy” Ken, TV screen Barbie, and more. A fun, peppy soundtrack tying it all together. (You’ve probably heard Dua Lipa’s “Dance the Night” by now, but just wait for Lizzo to define the Barbie experience with “PINK” twice over. And Gosling to define the Ken experience in “Just Ken.”)
So, what does Barbie have to offer? A bright, poppy aesthetic and sound. Great tie-ins and references to Mattel’s long history of creating dolls (the successes and failures) sure to hit your sense of nostalgia. Stellar performances with both humor and heart. And enough self-awareness not to take itself too seriously, while still accurately representing the struggle of real women. This time, believe the hype – this Barbie’s worth a watch, for sure.