I never thought I would be annoyed at a movie based on a plastic doll, but it’s 2023 and this has been one of the worst years for mainstream cinema that I can remember for all of the remakes, reboots and movies based off of products. Sometimes one slips through like BLACKBERRY that is much more than about the smartphone but there are others that simply exist as a trend-setter. BARBIE is no exception, a comedic dead zone of a movie that just falls apart the longer it plays, has some incredibly questionable morals and ethics that I feel crossed the line and an overall nasty message where no one comes out the hero or any wiser.
BARBIE comes with a lot of excitement for some reason, mostly from people who are pumped up with either a false description of the movie or a scenario of what they think the movie is that doesn’t really exist, nor will even pay attention to the actual premise of the movie. It’s about as frustrating as someone coming to a music bio-pic of someone they really like and are only there because of that artist, not because of the filmmaking or storytelling that the medium is there for. In the case of this movie, if you played with Barbie dolls then you just have to go see the movie now. “Well, I had a Barbie doll once, so automatically this movie is going to be great! Plus look at all that pink!”
You would even think I would be impressed with a reference to an all-time favourite 2001 A SPACE ODYSSEY as the movie opens, and I was in good spirits with that and about the first ten minutes or so…and yet slowly the movie reveals its claws. We meet an entire “Barbieworld” where everything is run by women and perfect and the men are off to the side, especially Ken (Ryan Gosling) who loves Barbie but is ignored by her. Barbie herself then gets an existenstial crisis and needs to head out into the real world to find herself.
Simply just showing “Barbieworld” and how it changes when Barbie leaves the world gave me good hopes of its intentions yet it just went totally flat the moment that Barbie and Ken (who sneaks into the car with her as he wants to see the real world too) are driving away in the car. I felt no real explanation or jokes about just going over to the real world where I wasn’t even convinced of the real world concept. Then the thesis of the movie then started to reveal itself as I sunk slowly and slowly in my theatre seat.
The so called “real world” in BARBIE is almost like as if aliens came down and tried to make a movie and this is the result of what they think humans would like. Not a lot here makes sense; there’s an interaction at Venice Beach that is so fake and over the top, even in a movie like this, that leads to an arrest that is so out of bounds on common sense that it doesn’t even work as satire. Later, an entire sequence that even includes a reference to THE GODFATHER breaks even my rules about jokes knowing the words but not the music. Pure cringe. Only about one or two quips by the otherwise useless narration by Helen Mirren makes a bit of a chuckle (especially when the Robbie-playing Barbie remarks about being ugly. I did laugh at that one). Yet all of the performers, from Kate McKinnon to Simu Liu to even America Ferrara in all various forms of performance levels feel like they are acting off of projections of each other. No one really feels like they’re all in the room in a collaboration; it’s very strange to explain but it’s all there on the otherwise good looking image (by Rodrigo Prieto of all cinematographers), just laying there.
To my utter shock this was mostly the brainchild of filmmakers Greta Gerwig and Noah Baumbach, who have had much better work in the past; Baumbach with many overlooked comedies and dramas (get yourself to a copy of FRANCES HA or MARRIAGE STORY if you haven’t seen it yet) and human dramas and Gerwig who broke onto the scene as an auteur with LADY BIRD and even an inspiring remake of LITTLE WOMEN after an already successful run of acting jobs. There are so many angry feminist themes that do not belong here whatsoever and fall flat consistently, and with that it even makes the visual design of the movie suffer, wearing out its welcome very quickly. Oh, and there are musical numbers here along with a whiny song by Billie Eilish just to round it all out.
What I find frustrating is that this movie will do well for all the wrong reasons and yet the majority of people who come out for it won’t support better movies in release either. They’ll wear pink to the screening and be just like everyone else, or just go because “Ryan Gosling is hot and I think he’s physically attractive” or go based off of the internet memes of seeing this and OPPENHEIMER (a much better movie). And I totally understand if people who want to just go see it and have fun, but it also helps if you also attempt to entertain the viewer and I sadly feel BARBIE totally fails in this regard. Even people going out for a simple entertainment at the movies can look elsewhere.
There’s a much better satire movie that instantly came to my mind while watching BARBIE, an overlooked 1987 gem called BACK TO THE BEACH, which was a parody of the 1960s beach movies transplanted to the then-new 1980s that even starred Annette Funicello and Frankie Avalon direct from the original movies. BACK TO THE BEACH didn’t have any PC-themes, hit the right moments when it needed to and overall gave a positive vibe. That idea was not taken seriously either, but it had the benefit of being much more fun and lively and appealing to all ages while also poking fun of the 1960s Beach movies of the time and its morals. This is something I wish BARBIE would have emulated, instead of making me leave the cinema like I was being talked down to as a moviegoer.
BARBIE is now playing in theatres.