Movie Review: Barbie

The candy-colored blockbusters lives up to the hype and delivers a surprisingly philosophical tale.


How do we actively choose to push forward with our own existence knowing that death is inevitable? Can social progress ever occur if individuals continue to regard cultural power as a zero-sum game? Is identity earned or prescribed?

No, I insist: This is the “Barbie” review. The questions raised by “Oppenheimer” are a bit more direct.

If anyone thought that writer/director Greta Gerwig was taking it easy by agreeing to make a “Barbie” movie, they were badly mistaken. Yes, there’s the sort of winking, self-knowing promotion that makes it clear that this is still a commercial enterprise; you’ll walk out of the theater eager to buy at least one officially branded product.

But the movement of the film — even the story — is philosophical. The loose cosmology of this universe posits that there’s a Barbieworld separate from our own, where a real version of every doll lives in eternal positivity. If a Barbie’s real-world counterpart becomes disillusioned or depressed, however, things can get weird in Barbieworld.

That’s the fate of Stereotypical Barbie (Margot Robbie), who interrupts a choreographed dance routine to posit, “Do you guys ever think about dying?” It’s one of a series of disruptions to her candy-colored bliss — the imaginary milk curdles, the non-existent shower is the wrong temperature, her eternally elevated heels descend to the floor — causing her to seek a remedy from Weird Barbie (Kate McKinnon), an oracle-like link to the real world.

Barbie and her designated Ken (Ryan Gosling) decamp for reality; there she learns that human life is much more complex than existence in Barbieworld while he learns about the patriarchy, both with disastrous consequences. The metatextual plot can be a bit labored, but never breaks — partially because it never bothers to explain itself, a convenient way to avoid self-contradiction.

If it doesn’t all add up, though, so what? We’re here for the vibes, and they are incredible. The music (under the supervision of hitmaker Marc Ronson) is incredible, the production design is dazzling — it can and should earn “Barbie” an Oscar — and the movie always maintains an unabashed good mood.

An incredible cast — also including Issa Rae, Simu Liu, Rhea Perlman, America Ferrera, Michael Cera, Will Ferrell, Helen Mirren and dozens more — makes the experience fly by. It’s the remarkable work by Gerwig, however, that makes “Barbie” special. Anyone could’ve made it fun; she made it weird and thoughtful and even challenging. It’s a significant achievement.

My Rating: 9/10

“Barbie” is now playing in theaters.

Categories: Sean Collier’s Popcorn for Dinner