‘Barbie’ Review: Just a Barbie Girl Living in a Truman Show World

Scott Menzel's review of Barbie, the highly anticipated big screen adaptation of the beloved Mattel doll. Barbie The Movie stars Margot Robbie, Ryan Gosling, America Ferrera, Simi Liu, Kate McKinnon, Alexandra Shipp, and Michael Cera
User Rating: 8

Greta Gerwig’s big-screen adaptation of Barbie has been one of the most talked about films of the year. The marketing campaign for Barbie has dominated social media and pretty much the entire world. Almost everywhere you go, whether it’s Pinkberry or Target, there is something related to the Barbie Movie staring you right in the face. This is truly remarkable because outside of the big-budget blockbusters, this kind of promotional campaigning is pretty rare nowadays. Also, as we all know, a lot of female-centric films don’t get the same amount of spotlight as their male counterparts, but this hasn’t been the case whatsoever with Barbie. I’d argue there has been a much bigger and stronger marketing campaign for Barbie than Oppenheimer. So, if you haven’t heard there is a Barbie moving coming out at some point over this past year, you must have been living under a rock because it has been everywhere.

With such an extensive and effective marketing campaign, it was very hard for me to walk into this film with low expectations. I was on Team Barbie from the very first clip I saw and have been anxiously waiting to watch the film ever since. Fortunately, Barbie lives up to the hype and, dare I say it, kind of exceeds it. Barbie is so wildly original, quirky, and ambitious that even though it is not without flaws, I almost want to give the film a pass because of how bold and entertaining it is. When you hear about the studios taking a chance on a filmmaker and allowing them to bring their vision to life, Barbie is the perfect example of that. Barbie is so unapologetically Greta Gerwig. You can tell that Warner Brothers and Mattel let Gerwig make the film that she wanted to make, and that is what makes this film something truly special. Warner Brothers and Universal seem to be the only major studios that aren’t afraid to greenlight big movies that are “out there” and go against the grain.

There is so much to say about Barbie that I don’t even know how I am going to get through all of it in this review. The biggest and probably the best compliment that I could give the film is that I didn’t immediately want to pull out my phone and tweet an instant reaction to it. Instead, I wanted to digest and process it before reacting to it. The level of detail that Greta Gerwig and, to some degree, Noah Baumbach went into when creating and writing this film is nothing short of remarkable. It might be easy for the casual viewer to simply write off Barbie as a comedy, but there is so much more to it than just laughs. The script is whip-smart and offers so much social commentary. The way that the film explores a male-led society vs. a female-led society is kind of brilliant. It’s very tongue-in-cheek yet is somehow very grounded at the same time. The writing is multi-layered, and as a result, so are many of the scenes.

While watching Barbie, it became very apparent that Gerwig grew up with a strong love of movies and wanted to pay homage to several filmmakers and films within this one. Some examples that popped into my mind while watching this film were The Wizard of Oz and The Truman Show, but there are countless others. The way that Gerwig directs is also something that should be celebrated. For anyone who may not be familiar with Gerwig’s work prior to Barbie, she started out in independent films as an actress before eventually becoming a filmmaker. With Barbie, she manages to make certain scenes feel larger than life, yet others that feel small and intimate. It is impressive how Gerwig is able to navigate a film of this scope, given that this is the first time that she has ever made something with this sort of budget while also being allowed to be daring and ambitious.

This leads me to the creative artists who worked on this film. Everyone from the production designer to the costume designer to the casting director should be in the awards conversation later this year. The film feels exactly like the toy line come to life. The attention to detail and the love that you feel as a viewer when watching this movie feels so unique. You can feel the passion that everyone involved felt while bringing this world to life, especially when there is the transition from Barbieland into the real world. When this scene happens, you almost immediately want to go back to Barbieland, not just because it’s more fun and creative there, but because of the joy that you, as a viewer, feel while being in that setting. You feel like a kid again.

In terms of the performances, the cast is all-around terrific. I don’t want to name everyone who is in this film because it’s like half of Hollywood, but they all bring their A-game no matter if they have only 5 minutes of screen time or 100. That being said, I do have to talk about Margot Robbie and Ryan Gosling. I feel like a lot of people have downplayed how talented Margot Robbie is because she hasn’t been in a lot of films that have been hits at the box office, but she’s a damn good actress. As much as I despised Babylon, she honestly tried so hard to make that material work. I loved her as Harley Quinn and still think to this day that her performance in Birds of Prey deserved to be recognized. Robbie’s Barbie is easily one of her best performances to date, if not her best. She brings a layer of complexity to the role that, as the film so perfectly points out, is commonly viewed as such a negative stereotype. There is so much heart and nuance to her performance too, that I feel like I will pick up on something new whenever I rewatch the film.

It’s kind of hard to not give a special shoutout to Ryan Gosling because he just takes the role of Ken to a whole another level. He just nails it. Gosling brings the laughs but never goes overboard with it. He’s just Ken. I love that Gerwig made him sing and dance multiple times in the film too. I found his performance to be so hilarious because while it is very obvious that many people view Gosling as sexy, the character he is playing is so not who he is as a person, which is why he is so perfect for the role. I know a lot of people are saying that he could be nominated for supporting actor, and I would love to see that happen because I do think he is that good.

While I was very entertained and engaged with this movie, it is not without a couple of flaws. My biggest complaint is that for how smart and sharp the writing is, some of the film’s messaging lacks any sort of subtlety. There are certain messages where the film goes a bit overboard and beats the audience over the head with certain themes. The one scene that stands out is the one where Barbie approaches Ariana Greenblatt’s character for the first time. This scene took me out of the movie, and I felt was very heavy-handed. It also didn’t feel very natural. I can’t picture any teenager calling Barbie a fascist. There is another speech that happens in the third act, which kind of had a similar effect. However, this time around, the speech was delivered with a lot more conviction, but it was still a bit too much because it went on too long.

Additionally, some of the jokes felt like they are way too LA-centric for their own good. That said, I did laugh so incredibly hard at a Century City joke. That was priceless, even though I don’t think anyone outside of LA will get it. I get that the character of Barbie originated in California, but the movie will be playing worldwide, and I think having too many inside jokes might have a negative impact on those who are not familiar with major cities like New York and Los Angeles.

All in all, Barbie is one of the best films that I have seen so far this year. Its cleverness has me believing there will be a lot to discuss. However, I do believe that to have the best experience possible, it’s good to go into it knowing as little about it as possible, which is why I kept this review fairly vague in terms of plot details. Regardless, Barbie is such a treat and one that I cannot wait to watch over and over again. This is Greta Gerwig’s best film to date and one that serves as a love letter to womanhood. I can’t wait to see and hear all of the discourse surrounding this film when it is released.

Scott Menzel’s rating for Barbie is a 8 out of 10. 

Written by
Born in New Jersey, Scott Menzel has been watching film and television since he was three years old. Growing up, he watched as many movies as he could and was highly influenced by the films of Tim Burton, John Hughes, Robert Zemeckis, and Steven Spielberg. Scott has an Associate's Degree in Marketing, a Bachelor's in Mass Media, Communications, and a Master's in Electronic Media. He has been writing film reviews under the alias of MovieManMenzel since 2003 and started his writing career as a contributing critic at IMDB.com and Joblo.com. In 2009, Scott launched MovieManMenzel.com where he posted several of his film reviews but in 2011 decided to shut down the site when he launched We Live Film.com. In 2015, We Live Film became We Live Entertainment. The domain name change occurred after months of debate but was done so that he and his fellow staff members could write about anything and everything in the world of entertainment.

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