After months of “Barbenheimer” hype – the aptly named event referencing the dual-release of Barbie and Christopher Nolan’s Oppenheimer on the same day – Barbie finally releases this week in all her pastel glory. Warner Bros. Pictures and Director/Writer Greta Gerwig (Lady Bird) are hoping that this film based on the 1950’s fashion doll and cultural icon will delight fans of all generations.
In the enchanting realm of Barbieland, Barbie and Ken revel in an idyllic existence. But when fate grants them a chance to venture into the real world, they encounter challenges in their newfound human lives. Barbie and Ken’s journey in the real world becomes a whirlwind of emotions and adventures, leading them to appreciate the beauty of both their fantastical origins and the richness of human existence.
Barbie’s phenomenal marketing here in Australia and (from what I saw online) around the globe was what convinced me that this film was going to be special. Every trailer, behind the scenes photo, brand collaboration and pink carpet premiere I saw reassured me even more. If I had to choose a side in the “Barbenheimer” war I was going to be waving a pink flag with pride. Though I never had much affinity for Barbie as a product (more of an Action Man kinda guy), I was blown away by how well-crafted the film’s advertisement campaign was. The hype-building around Barbie was palpable, and I couldn’t wait to experience this film in the best way possible – in a packed theatre surrounded by 100+ fans, dressed in head-to-toe pastels.
After having seen the film I’m predicting that Barbie is going to be an incredibly divisive film. The core message of the film is women empowerment, and although that isn’t a bad message by any means, the way the film conveys that message will undoubtedly spark some controversy. Its anti-men rhetoric that’s very prominent throughout the film sometimes comes across as callous and mean-spirited. Countless jokes are at the expense of the male characters in the film, in which almost all of them are either stupid, sexist, misogynistic… Or all three. Though Barbie does have a great core message, its delivery may unfortunately come at the expense of alienating itself from a wider audience.
Right from the moment the film starts you are introduced to “Barbieland”, a dollhouse fantasy land come to life. The set designers have created a perfect recreation of what a life-size Barbie playset would look like and I will be appalled if they don’t receive an Oscar for their incredible efforts. Gerwig herself said she was going for a “Wizard of Oz” aesthetic and I feel she and her team nailed it. This quality of design and attention to detail is carried out throughout which helps to elevate the film.Not to mention the abundance of some truly incredible costumes worn by both the Barbies and Kens throughout the film (which I can already envision people on the street replicating these iconic looks in the near future). The two stars Margot Robbie (I, Tonya) and Ryan Gosling (Drive) are both excellent in their roles. Gosling’s comedic timing is effortless and Robbie really is like a Barbie come to life. The supporting cast also does an excellent job, with a special mention to a rival Ken played by Simu Liu (Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings) who gets some great moments to shine.
The issues I started having with this film as it went on were in the script and story elements. Barbie has multiple subplots that go nowhere, and becomes a somewhat muddled mess of what it’s trying to achieve. One moment the audience is led to believe this is where the plot is going then it’s quickly dropped, never to be mentioned again in favour of a new plot. Another realisation I had was that most of the best parts of the film were in the multiple trailers and TV spots released leading up to the films release. Don’t worry there are still some hilarious moments left to enjoy in the cinema but it diminishes the experience for me somewhat. The element I think will be talked about most when discussing this film in the weeks to come is it’s very political. This pro-femininity, anti-masculinity theme is brought up in almost every scene of Barbie and makes its point with no nuance. At times it can be funny but the negativity towards the male characters can get rather repetitive and tiresome when it’s the main humour of the film. I feel the subject matter could have been handled in a more playful, yet encouraging way which would have helped the film to feel more inclusive rather than exclusive. I’m not sure if many males were rushing to the multiplex to see the Barbie movie but this may quash any hopes of them being convinced.
The attention to detail and love that the cast and crew have for the Barbie brand is evident. This film is a love letter to the 60+ years of Barbie history and her impact on pop culture. The muddled story elements and negativity towards masculine views unfortunately can’t always be overlooked, but there is still plenty of fun to be had in this plastic-fantastic film.