Barbie review: A clever satire and fantastic flick

By Fariha Bhatti


Jul 24, 2023

Reading time: 3 min

In a daring feat of cinematic artistry, Greta Gerwig’s “Barbie” delves into patriarchy and feminism while being purely PG-13.

When Margot Robbie previously told fans that Barbie is “literally crafted to be for everyone,” movie-goers had likely expected a happy-go-lucky movie about dolls. Barbie is appropriate even for kids, but it carries a tear-jerking message and a gut-wrenching plot enveloped in flashy tones of pink.

Critics may claim Barbie neglects its “core audience,” but this candy-colored fable has a personal conversation with nostalgic adults and boldly rectifies stereotypical Barbie’s wrongs for teenage girls.

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Barbie starts on a solid foot, with a nod to Stanley Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey.” But, instead of apes, little girls are tossing away their dolls after discovering a giant Barbie. The grandeur will set your expectations sky-high from the outset, and Gerwig’s directorial prowess does not disappoint. From the first second, it was clear that Barbie would effortlessly pull off the trick of being both a fantastic children’s flick and a clever satire for grown-ups. If you get the Top Gun, Justice League, and Matrix references, you get them. And if you don’t, it’s a harmless scene with no double entendre.

Initially, everything is lovely in Barbie’s dreamhouse until the stereotypical Barbie, played by Margot Robbie, experiences paranormal events — a cold shower and flat feet. All Barbies have the iconic perfect arch, except Weird Barbie, played by Kate McKinnon, who’s always in the splits because someone played with her “too hard.”

To return to being “stereotypically beautiful,” Barbie embarks on a journey to the real world with Ken, her securely obedient boyfriend played by Ryan Gosling.

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The traveling sequence bursts the dark cinema hall to life in a symphony of bubblegum pinks and blues. Greta perfectly captures the child-like aesthetic, magically changing the backdrop from night-time to day. After taking her pastel convertible, then a rocket launcher, then a bus, and finally roller skates, Barbie reaches the beach, where she is shocked by the sexism — and Ken is delighted to discover that “men rule the world.”

The satire in the real world is dark, but Ryan Gosling’s delivery and cleverly written jabs make them less painful for the women watching the movie. While Ken gathers all the information he can to transform Barbie Land into a messed-up rendition of the real world, Barbie discovers emotions and that teenage girls hate her for setting unreal beauty standards. Sasha, the hormonal teen, even calls her a fascist. Ouch!

The post-real-world Ken is cringeworthy and repulsive. He rides imaginary horses and is the flagbearer of patriarchy within Barbie Land, but you’d still sympathize with him. That’s where the true essence of the plot lies. In a sense, the plight of Ken mirrors that of women in our very own reality. So when Ken asks Barbie, “How does it feel?” it’s really a question directed at the male audience.

In a way, Greta keeps the promise of Barbie being PG-13, but the theme is much more than just a “doll movie.” It’s a letter to teenage girls criticizing Barbie’s picture-perfect body but dismissing her ambitions. Barbie never apologizes for being too pretty. Instead, Gloria’s monologue mentions how women are even scared of looking a certain way because they need to stay part of the “sisterhood.”

The movie’s latter half has several monologues that may leave you with a tear or two. The kids, however, would enjoy the vibrant color themes and meeting with the discontinued Barbies, including Midge, Growing Up Skipper, Barbie Video Girl, and more. Ryan Gosling’s dance number is a mood-lifter and also a cash cow for Mattel, who’s probably already printing “I am Kenough” merchandise as we speak.


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