Everything is awesome! Well, that’s not what Barbie actually says in the first few minutes of meeting her, but it’s along those lines and like Lord and Miller’s The Lego Movie, Barbie is a giddily fun frolic with an ardent underlying message.
We’re told in the opening montage (via a wonderful voiceover by Helen Mirren) that when girls [literally] flung away their baby dolls and instead picked up Barbies to play with, feminism and equality problems in the real world were solved. Now, every incarnation of Barbie lives in Barbieland (alongside their Kens who live for a glance from Barbie), safe in the knowledge that women hold pretty much all of the important jobs in the real world. And they’re rocking it.
However, things are about to change. Stereotypical Barbie (actual name), portrayed flawlessly by Margot Robbie wakes up one day in her ordinary and perfect life to find things are not so perfect; she’s burned her toast, her heels touch the ground and worst of all, she’s filled with an impending sense of the inevitability of death. Not things that should ever infect the pure, imaginative world of Barbieland.
Realising something is wrong and seeking the help of Weird Barbie (again, actual name and played delightfully cuckoo by Kate McKinnon), Stereotypical Barbie heads for the Real World to find out why she’s being infected by her owner’s dark thoughts.
What should traditionally follow is a whimsical journey of self-discovery and empowerment. And while that certainly happens, co-writer and director Greta Gerwig also holds up a mirror to the darker side of the real world and of the self, all under the veil of Nineties pink pastels and positivity.
Featuring a star-studded cast front and centre as well as some brilliant cameos, everyone is committed to the joke and to the message of Barbie, treating it with the perfect blend of tongue-in-cheek and seriousness. The stand out here is Ryan Gosling as the love-sick, Ken. His arc from side character (purposefully, Ken doesn’t even have his own Dreamhouse) to something much more is a joy to watch. Though perhaps for a movie based on female empowerment, it’s ironic that Gosling’s character ends up taking a lot of the limelight.
From poking fun at Mattel, fourth-wall-busting nods to the audience, and choreographed musical numbers, through to interpretive dance, Gerwig throws everything at the screen and it works. Barbie’s method of transportation from Barbieland to the real world and the appearance of Will Ferrell cement the similarity in tone to something like the mood of Elf (from another Indie director-turned-big-time Jon Favreau).
Gerwig’s Indie sensibilities and ear for quirky dialogue have crafted a world that is beautifully tangible. Be prepared to throw away caution and laugh out loud in this genuinely enjoyable cinematic experience. Speaking of which, the incredible production design from Sarah Greenwood just pushes home that this is a movie of pure imagination, giving the audience permission to have fun and fall in love playing with Barbie all over again.
Barbie is out in cinemas on 21 July