Life & Culture

Barbie review: Absurd and deadly serious

Gerwig and Baumbach have given us the universal hit of the summer


Over the last few weeks, Barbie has become omnipresent. Brand deals and collaborations abound, and the cast has embarked on what must be a PR tour of Illiadic proportions.

Helmed by Greta Gerwig and from a screenplay the Little Women director wrote with her husband, Jewish writer Noah Baumbach, Barbie is based on the Mattel doll created by Jewish toymaker Ruth Handler (née Moscowitz). It is the first live-action Barbie film after over 40 computer-animated direct-to-video television films that failed to make a splash beyond the children's audience for which they were intended.

This latest exploration of the billion-doll franchise has a plethora of Jewish faces behind and in front of the camera. Rhea Perlman plays the doll's creator and Ariana Greenblatt, whose mother is Jewish and father Puerto Rican, stars as a precocious teen who has thrown away her Barbie.

Meanwhile, Jewish actress Ana Cruz Kayne plays Barbie Supreme Court Justice and Jewish trans star Hari Nef plays Barbie Doctor.

Closer to these shores, Brit Kingsley Ben-Adir is one of the prominent Ken dolls.

Despite living in the happiest, pinkest, and blondest place on earth, Barbie (Margot Robbie) has recently developed a serious case of the blues. With her existential crisis leading her to question every aspect of her life, Barbie is advised to seek answers to her current malaise in the Real World. Joined by Ken (Ryan Gosling) on her voyage of discovery, Barbie soon develops more human traits like crying, cellulite, and ennui. 

Teaming up with Mattel employee Gloria (America Ferrera) and her teenage daughter, Barbie returns to Barbie Land to find that everything isn’t quite how she left it.

Gerwig and Baumbach have given us the universal hit of the summer and the kind of film one can't help but fall deeply in love with. With a powerful message of LGBTQ inclusion and a strong feminist message at the heart of its storyline, Barbie manages to be both absurd and deadly serious in equal measure.

Robbie and Gosling are both truly magnificent, funny and hugely likeable. The film also features a brilliant performance from Ugly Betty star Ferrera, and some unlikely cameos from action star John Cena, pop singer Dua Lipa and Dame Helen Mirren. Meanwhile Michael Cera and Kate McKinnon bring a certain absurdist flair to the proceedings. 

Tonally, Barbie is mixture of brilliantly timed gags and a call to arms for women and girls everywhere. It is a film that says "girls who love pink can also be feminists”. The fact that this movie even exists, and with Mattel’s blessing, is in itself a miracle. Come on Barbie, let’s go party.

Directed by Greta Gerwig
Cert 12A
Stars ★★★★☆

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