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‘Barbie’ Review: Greta Gerwig Gives Margot Robbie an Existential Crisis for the Ages

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The Barbie movie has taken the world by storm. From its extensive (and impeccable) marketing campaign to the powerhouse creatives behind the film, Barbie became a cultural phenomenon long before it landed in theaters last night. Through it all, it’s been very clear that Greta Gerwig has approached the Barbie brand in a way no one quite expected. I’m pleased to say that the film itself manages to further surprise and delight audiences by layering the story with so much genuine depth, it’s impossible to unravel your thoughts without having your own existential crisis. And I mean that in the best possible way!

Barbie and Ken

The standouts of the Barbie movie are, of course, Margot Robbie and Ryan Gosling. In a world populated by a diverse cast of Barbies and Kens, our duo are playing the originals: “Stereotypical Barbie” and “Stereotypical Ken”. Right off the bat, it’s clear that Barbie is much more than its marketing suggested. While we all expected some kind of commentary on feminism and how the world has changed since Barbie’s introduction, the route the film takes is genuinely surprising. 

Barbie and Ken
Barbie and Ken in the Barbie movie (Warner Bros.)

Robbie and Gosling give standout performances. Perfectly cast and delivering every line on point, both actors are at the top of their game in Barbie. Gosling has gotten plenty of rave reviews for his performance as Ken (with some even suggesting a potential nomination for Best Supporting Actor at next year’s Academy Awards), but if anyone’s getting nominated for Barbie it should absolutely be Margot Robbie

Barbie’s quieter moments are executed perfectly by Robbie, bringing an incredible amount of depth to an act as innocuous as complimenting a stranger on a park bench. Gosling knocks it out of the park as Ken, particularly during his evolution (and song!) in the third act, but his character lacks those subtler moments that make Margot Robbie’s performance so impactful. 

The Barbie brand

In fact, a central aspect that caught me off guard was the film’s approach to the Barbie brand and Mattel itself. Given that Barbie is based on a popular toy line, I expected a film akin to The LEGO Movie. I thought we’d follow a toy living in its own utopia, blissfully unaware of the real world until the plot necessitates their interaction with the humans controlling their stories. Barbie turns this idea on its head immediately. 

Barbie dolls based on the movie
Barbie dolls based on Margot Robbie and Ryan Gosling (Mattel)

In fact, what makes Barbie so unique is that it’s not a simple blockbuster designed to sell more toys. Instead of the brand driving the film’s story, the film’s plot comes from the deeply thought-provoking themes Gerwig introduces with these characters. Mattel’s Barbie brand is not the main attraction here, it’s the existential crisis Margot Robbie’s Stereotypical Barbie faces that is front and center. 

Of course, there’s fun references and incredible set design based on the toys, but they feel more like Easter eggs for fans rather than the beating heart of the film. That’s a wrinkle I didn’t expect. After all, it’s a Barbie movie! No matter what the message was, I expected the film’s themes to be secondary to the pink plastic fun promised by the trailers. I’ve never been happier to be proven wrong!

Who is the Barbie movie made for?

Barbie doesn’t feel like a movie designed for children in any sense. I walked into it expecting a fun time for kids with some analysis of Barbie’s place in modern feminist society for adults. The movie is entirely the latter. While the aesthetics of Barbieland seem designed to excite children (or an adult’s inner child), the film’s actual content is more of an awards play than traditional blockbuster fare. 

Barbie in Barbieland (Warner Bros.)

That’s not a criticism in any sense, as I found it surprisingly refreshing! From the inappropriate jokes to the social commentary at play, Barbie surprised and delighted in equal measure. While certain aspects feel rushed at the beginning and I wish there was more exploration of the human characters, their roles are satisfying enough and still give you something to think about. 

On that note, the themes examined through Barbie and Ken are genuinely moving, engaging, and often hilarious. I can’t stress enough how authentic and real Barbie is. Barbie and Ken go on separate journeys of self-discovery, with semi-predictable yet simultaneously unexpected outcomes. While these journeys have been hinted at in the film’s trailers, their execution adds new layers I certainly didn’t see coming. 

America Ferrera’s Gloria is a perfect example. A character largely hidden from marketing materials, Gloria’s involvement may not be exactly what you expect going in. There are certain tropes throughout Barbie that fans can easily guess at, but they’re never as simple as one would think. Case in point: Gloria’s monologue in the film’s third act holds a mirror up to a woman’s societal expectations in an unapologetic manner that Greta Gerwig applies to the entire film. 

Barbie movie
Gloria (America Ferrera) and Sasha (Ariana Greenblatt) infiltrate Barbieland (Warner Bros.)

There are several moments that caught the audience off guard, primarily because Gerwig pulls no punches when it comes to discussing “sensitive” topics like feminism and toxic masculinity. This no-holds-barred attitude is also reflected in the film’s occasional (humorous) criticism of Mattel, another layer I didn’t expect given that the company being mocked produced the film.

The verdict on the Barbie movie

While I don’t think Barbie is a perfect movie, it’s pretty close. It didn’t meet my expectations in certain human-related areas but far surpassed them in so many others, I don’t feel bothered by the (very few) perceived missed opportunities. If one thing’s clear, it’s that Greta Gerwig is the rare filmmaker who can bend an intellectual property to fit into her vision rather than the other way around. 

Greta Gerwig on set of Barbie
Greta Gerwig (center) on the set of Barbie (Warner Bros.)

Technically, Barbie is a masterpiece. From the perfect set design to the gorgeous costumes, from the sharp writing to the standout performances, even from the narration to the original music, Barbie needs to be seen to be believed. When was the last time a narrator and soundtrack broke the fourth wall to interact in harmony without completely taking the audience out of the film? 

Barbie is a film that subverts expectations in the best way possible and will delight any adult who goes in expecting a movie about a children’s toy with a side of feminist analysis. The true film is a clever inversion of expectations that will leave you thinking about its themes for days to come. 

And whatever you do, don’t watch this before Oppenheimer! I haven’t seen Christoper Nolan’s latest epic yet, but I don’t think I could handle a second deep dive on the fragility of human life in less than 24 hours. Trust me, the Barbie movie will make you cry. That’s the highest praise I can possibly give it!

My rating for this film:

★★★★½/ ♥♥♥♥♥

Barbie is now in theaters! Are you seeing it this weekend? Let us know what you think of it on social media or our Discord!

Cosmic Circle Ep. 36: Barbie Movie Discussion

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Uday Kataria

Hi! I'm a huge Marvel, DC, and LEGO fan. I run my own YouTube channel (GoldenNinja3000) and write/host podcasts for The Cosmic Circus. I also created and produced the LEGO Ninjago short film "Golden Hour".

Uday Kataria has 78 posts and counting. See all posts by Uday Kataria