REVIEW: Barbie (2023)

This week saw the release of the highly-anticipated Barbie. The world’s most famous and iconic fashion doll hit the market in 1959 and changed the toy industry forever. I loved Barbies as a kid, and I still do. I collect dolls, and when this movie was announced, I was initially very skeptical. Then, when Amy Schumer dropped out and Margot Robbie was cast as Barbie, I got interested. The trailers and brilliant marketing campaign won me over, and I couldn’t wait to see this movie. Does it meet expectations? Grab your sunglasses because we’re going to Malibu! 

Barbie follows stereotypical Barbie (Margot Robbie) as she starts experiencing un-Barbie-like things. She goes to weird Barbie (Kate McKinnon), who encourages her to travel to the real world and discover what’s causing her life to fall apart. Ken stows away, and soon, Barbie finds the source of her trouble, but the Mattel board is chasing her, and she has to make things right before it’s too late. 

This movie is packed to the gills with niche Mattel/Barbie references, and even one to Barbie’s nemeses, the Bratz. Gloria (America Ferrera), a Mattel employee who goes on the adventure with Barbie, has a daughter named Sasha. Sasha sits with three girls who look like the Bratz, and Sasha is one of the main Bratz characters. They take this a step further when Gloria calls her “Bunny Boo,” that character’s assigned nickname. As for the Mattel trivia, there are too many instances to list. Bigger references include the pregnant Midge doll (Emerald Fennell) and Allan (Michael Cera). At the same time, they branch off into the bizarre with Magic Earring Ken (Tom Stourton) and other deep cuts. In short, if you’re a genuine doll fan or collector, there is definitely stuff in Barbie for you. This initially won me over in the original trailer and character posters: the care and thought put into representing the greatest doll in the world. 

Barbie 2023

However, there’s more to the movie than that. Barbie is shockingly well-cast. Margot Robbie is the best choice for an on-screen Barbie I can imagine, and she really puts the work into the role. Ryan Gosling drew some controversy for being too old to play Ken, but he’s the best part of this movie. He has all the funniest bits and some of the choicest lines of dialogue. All the dolls are cast very well and faithfully. The cast is full of familiar faces, too, like Will Ferrell as Mattel’s CEO. I have some issues with the Mattel board, but it’s not on the performers. I’ll come back to this. Gloria and Sasha (Ariana Greenblatt) look very much alike, so great casting here too. They definitely share enough resemblance to be mother and daughter. 

This movie is mired in political debates surrounding gender roles and gender politics in general. I had hoped this would be nothing more than the remarks of meddling actors and the usual nonsense outrage that accompanies every movie now. I don’t enjoy this at all. I hate it when any movie, especially one I’m excited about, is overtaken by controversy like this. I don’t love discussing politics, and more often than not, these topics divide people who otherwise could have enjoyed a movie together. However, I’m sorry to report that Barbie is everything Simu Liu and Kate McKinnon have said and more. Every male character in Barbie is stupid or evil, and in multiple cases, both. Ryan Gosling’s male lead is ineffectual and dumb as a rock. He’s also hysterical, and again, I don’t blame Gosling for this; he does exactly what the script calls for. Despite what Barbie would have you think, Ken was never a character I perceived as a loser, stupid, or “a simp.” Ken is essentially a Barbie add-on, but I never saw this as bad. He’s like the male version of the girlfriend in a superhero movie. He had his own jobs and various clothes like Barbie. The webseries Barbie: Life in the Dreamhouse is my go-to for a definitive vision of Barbie, Ken, and basically everything Barbie-adjacent. This series is hysterical, clever, and brimming with pop-culture references and self-aware comedy. But unlike Barbie (2023), it’s faithful to what Barbie is and who Ken is. Barbie and Ken are a package, and they belong together, period. They are dating, but Barbie (2023) leads the viewer to see Barbie as unattainable and Ken as a friend-zoned incel. He devolves into a pseudo-incel as the film goes on, and the Kens generally are not portrayed well or respectfully. This isn’t a clever reference to Barbie and Ken’s 2004 breakup, either; it’s just a smack in the face of Barbie’s oldest ride-or-die and longtime fans. 

Barbie 2023

This movie’s messaging and even what it says about gender are very muddled. At first, I agreed with it. The beginning 30-45 minutes is great, full stop. The art design in Barbie Land is incredibly vibrant, colorful, and devoted to the classic Barbie aesthetic. The message initially seems to be that life can be hard for women, but it’s not because of Barbie, who hasn’t necessarily fixed the problem either. I think that’s fair. Barbie didn’t solve every gender-related problem in the world, but I detest it when people blame sexism or unfair expectations placed on female behavior and appearance on her. She’s a doll! She’s not real! However, as the film proceeds, this becomes confusing and contradictory. Gloria has a monologue about the issues of womanhood that’s very fair and doesn’t blame men. But before long, all men, be they Kens or Mattel board members, are evil, woman-hating obstacles. Without saying too much, I absolutely hate the ending of this movie. It’s downright disrespectful to Barbie, her fans, and Ken more than anything. Personally, I think they try to juggle too much in this movie. Is it about gender struggles? Is it about Barbie evading Mattel’s CEO? Is it a comedy or a deft political satire? The film thinks the answer is “all of the above,” and it’s much worse for it. The humor is far and away the best aspect of the film. 

Barbie 2023

Barbie is an enigma to me. Initially, it’s hilarious and gorgeous to look at, but it becomes worse visually and in writing near the middle and nosedives hard at the end. It’s heavy-handed, misandrist, and ends on a bizarre downer and an inappropriate joke. I’m not a parent, and I usually don’t care if movies are appropriate for kids, but this movie is attracting a lot of little girls. Personally, I wouldn’t take a child younger than maybe 10 or 12 to Barbie because they frequently refer to the lack of genitals on Barbie and Ken, and they talk a lot about vaginas. Overall, I don’t like this movie much. It’s frustrating because it starts off strong but bares its teeth too much later on. 

Barbie (2023)

Plot - 6
Acting - 8
Music/Sound - 5
Direction/Editing - 6
Character Development - 4



Barbie is nothing if not underwhelming. For the first half-hour or so, it is all the trailers is promised but they show their true intentions not long after that.

Comments (1)

July 23, 2023 at 12:33 am

I pity the fools who thought this movie was gonna be good. I mean, after watching that teaser that ripped off 2001 I knew it was gonna be crap.

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