Barbie12¦ 4K UHD, Blu-ray, DVD
When details of a film based on the Barbie toy were first announced, it wasn’t exactly greeted with a great deal of optimism, after all, films based on toys haven’t done well historically.
But with a clever marketing campaign, that saw Barbenheimer become a cultural phenomenon, and a post-Covid audience’s thirst for entertainment, pink quickly became the new black in cinema. But with the hype surrounding its cinematic release now subsided, it’s now time to consider whether or not it was worth it.
Welcome to Barbieland, the most perfect world for every Barbie. Oh and Kens too. Living her best life is stereotypical Barbie (Margot Robbie), who may well be the most popular Barbie on the block. Ken (Ryan Gosling) certainly thinks so, but he’s not alone as he finds he has to compete with every other Ken for her attention.
One day Barbie starts to feel...different; it starts off mentally with her having thoughts about something very un-Barbie-like, then manifests itself physically, whereupon her feet begin to behave differently.
It gets to the point where she has to talk to Weird Barbie (Kate McKinnon), who believes there’s only one thing for Barbie to do, and that’s visit the real world of humans where she’ll get her answers.
So that’s exactly what she does, with Ken in tow, as she sets off to discover what’s happening to her. It’s a journey that not only affects Barbie’s life, but all of Barbieland.
Someone who has been a darling of the indie scene, as both an actress and director, is Greta Gerwig. And if you were likely to have a discussion about who would helm a film based on a toy, it’s unlikely her name would be mentioned. And yet that unlikely scenario did play out, just like that, and to great commercial success to boot. And that’s an understatement when you consider that it was made for the relatively small budget of around $140 million, and then managed to join the elite billion plus club.
Sure the clever marketing plan worked a treat, but it was likely to succeed anyway. This is due to Gerwig’s canny ability to please her audience, made up of young and old, at the same time. And that’s the key to the film’s deserved success, working on a number of levels simultaneously.
For one section of the audience it’s a frothy, colourful adventure about a doll that comes to life. For others it’s a visual essay on everything from feminism, the patriarchal system, sexism, and existentialism, to name just a few. All, remarkably, within the same film. And if that wasn’t enough, it also manages to resurrect the 1989 choon Closer to Fine by the Indigo Girls and make it an anthem. That said, there does feel a missed opportunity to feature The Psychedelic Furs Pretty in Pink.
It’s a beautifully layered, trippy experience, that although is, at its heart, an updated version of the Wizard of Oz crossed with Pinocchio, with Barbie as the hybrid puppet/Dorothy embarking on an adventure to get answers from the person behind the pink curtain, in this case the head of Mattel, and yet it’s unmistakably Barbie.
The truth is, it has no right being as thought-provoking as it is, considering its subject matter, but Gerwig literally brings it all to life with generous helpings of visual gags and good humour.
It is also helped by some fine performances from both Robbie and Gosling, with both their characters going on emotional journeys. It has to be said though that we wouldn’t be put off by the idea of a spin-off flick for Allan, played by the adorable Michael Cera, who struggles with his own identity amidst an entire community of Kens.
Certainly Mattel deserve a little credit too, as their HQ run by male execs in the film isn’t exactly shown in a good light, but since their sales in dolls increased by 25% since the film’s release, they can probably live with it.
And considering the film joined the exclusive billion club, there can be nothing more certain than a sequel in the pipeline, it’s just unclear whether Gerwig would be keen to sign up for it. On this evidence, fingers crossed that she does.
We can also only but hope that it opens the door for Darren Aronofsky’s take on Action Man (AKA GI.Joe), as he faces his own existential crisis dealing with issues of masculinity and violence, delivered in a visual theme of camouflage greens and greys, whilst struggling physically to look anywhere other than side to side.
Barbie then is the perfect example of a film being released at the perfect time, creating the perfect pink storm of product placement and entertainment. It’s ingenious blend of silliness and creativity, tackling social themes and playfulness, make it a true collector’s item.