What do you get when you cross a timeless icon of multiple generations’ childhoods with perfectly cast movie stars, excellent writers, and a strong director with a proven track record? The Barbie movie! Warner Bros. and Mattel took no chances with their pitch perfect casting of Margot Robbie and Ryan Gosling as Barbie and Ken, surrounding them with an excellent supporting cast— including Will Ferrell, Kate McKinnon, and more— and choosing Greta Gerwig and Noah Baumbach to write the film and Gerwig to direct it. And then, to summer moviegoers’ delight, they faithfully recreated Barbie’s Dreamhouse, neighborhood, and entire world in a pink-plastered, make believe paradise to set the stage for smart storytelling and creative narrative throughout. This is the recipe for the smash hit that will resonate with anyone who grew up with even the slightest knowledge of Barbie… even if just from commercials or sneaking a peak at your sister’s dolls.
Where Warner Bros. and Mattel did take risks was with the sharp and biting humor of the film, the interesting twists and turns the movie takes with particular character arcs, and the film’s penchant for actively earning its PG-13 rating. Barbie is a film that kids will love, but it plays like the opposite of the old formula of throwing in a joke or two for mom and dad which will fly over the little ones’ heads in a movie made for kids. Barbie seems tailor made for the kids of yesteryear who grew up when Barbie was the hottest toy on the block and no one cared as much about her corporate competitors in the toy aisle. The music, the playful look at the ideology that the toys were meant to both represent and break free of, and the secret protagonist of the movie actually being America Ferrera as a thirty-something mom all point to the idea that Barbie is meant to be accessible to kids but enjoyed by adults. The film could be appreciated on its surface level, but many of the jokes land better by an audience who knows what all of the little quips and double entendres actually mean. This was the biggest risk that the filmmakers took, and it led to their greatest reward: a movie that will stand the test of time because of all of the ways that it elevated the property with humor and self-examination.
Greta Gerwig has established her voice as an auteur with such hits as Lady Bird and Little Women, and Noah Baumbach (The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, Marriage Story) proves to be an excellent co-writer for Gerwig. The script plays like an amalgamation of their clever dialogue while maintaining Gerwig’s presence and perspective from her prior films. The result is a movie that’s fun and witty throughout and tough for moviegoers to watch without a big dumb smile on their faces the entire time.
A Barbie movie starring Margot Robbie and Ryan Gosling is something most movie lovers could have dreamed up in their heads without ever seeing a single shot from the film. Both actors are simply perfect for their roles, but Robbie and Gosling don’t rely on appearances or past performances to make the casting work. There is a depth to both Barbie and Ken which reveals itself throughout the twists and turns of the movie, which both actors do an incredible job of balancing in between copious amounts of silly comedy and indulgent fun. Will Ferrell conjures up his tried and true “silly buffoon” archetype to keep the real world part of the story playful and light. And the sheer number of stars popping up as other Barbies and Kens (and Michael Cera as Allan!) just keep this movie fun to engage with from start to finish. Barbie never lets the audience forget that this is a Hollywood production with so many of its top performers to bring the glitz and glam of the iconic toy to life.
Barbie is fun, funny, engaging, interesting, and it doesn’t take itself too seriously while still respecting the intelligence of its audience. What more could moviegoers ask for in a Hollywood summer blockbuster?