Barbie is a deconstruction and love letter to the icon, with great set pieces, choreography, and style. Greta Gerwig continues to show why she’s one of the best directors working today, while Margot Robbie and Ryan Gosling shine as always.
2023’s Barbie could have been many things. The character has existed in countless ways and is perceived from a myriad of viewpoints. Because of this, it is a sigh of relief that Warner Bros. Discovery tapped the shoulder of Greta Gerwig to take on the film. The scope of this film is larger than anything Gerwig has taken on in the past, yet her work with character studies and meticulous attention to detail pays off in spades with Barbie, firmly placing the director as one of the best modern filmmakers.
Joining Gerwig is Margot Robbie as the titular character. Robbie is absolutely at the top of her game as an actress. Robbie completely blends into the role of Barbie, similar to how she disappears into the role of Harley Quinn. Her acting chops continue to improve film-by-film and she exudes the confidence, vulnerability, and style that Barbie is known for. Her co-star, Ryan Gosling is absolute at his A-Game as well. Gosling has been known to take more subdued, dark, and stoic roles in the past and Barbie gives the actor one of his more experimental roles as Ken. Gosling has spoken highly about his experience playing as Ken, but even his words don’t serve his performance justice. Gosling genuinely looks to be having the time of his life playing the role and he plays off of Robbie incredibly well. It is a testament to both actors and Gerwig’s directing style allowing both actors to shine.
Barbie is at its best when fully embracing the “Barbie world.” From the first act, Barbie embraces the essence of imagination, transporting viewers into a vibrant world with incredible set pieces and reduced use of VFX. The world quite literally feels like a life-size series of dollhouses, and that can be attributed to the strong production design and color grading. The film also boasts a variety of musical numbers with great choreography and hilarious moments. You might just come out of this movie feeling that Ryan Gosling found his dream role after a personal song. The score is strong, the songs are catchy and the dances are infectious and memorable, all great to capture the hearts of audiences.
At times, a mix between The Matrix and The Truman Show, Barbie does not hold back on heavy themes and multi-layered storytelling. What could have been a simplistic story of Barbie entering the “real world” is instead a deep deconstruction of the idea of Barbie and the ultimate purpose of the character’s existence. It was incredibly refreshing to have a script that kept all audiences and generations in mind. After all, Barbie has completely different connotations depending on who you ask. While at times, the film can get a little too tangled in its multiple themes, it is a near-masterful job overall.
Beyond its visual appeal, Barbie defies expectations in its story. Where Barbie perceives herself as an embodiment of empowerment, the world around her is punishingly real, and to the reality that Barbie lives in, it might as well be hell. This juxtaposition keeps the audience in a place of bewilderment and understanding, which works quite well. On a base level, Barbie navigates through self-discovery and personal growth but the deeper the film deconstructs the character, the better it gets. The audience gets to see both the puppet and the puppet strings of the film and it plays brilliantly given Barbie’s primary purpose as being a toy for children. Additionally, Barbie boasts a delightful and catchy musical score that not only complements the film’s enchanting visuals but also elevates the overall viewing experience. The songs are infectious and memorable, further contributing to the film’s magic.
Overall, Barbie is a celebration of what the character meant to childhood and a deconstruction of what she ultimately means to the modern world. Gerwig does an excellent job examining the legacy of Barbie under a microscope and delivering strong commentary on womanhood. Simply put, Barbie is one of the best films of the year.