When it comes to Greta Gerwig's “Barbie,” it isn't so much "having your cake and eating it too"—it's more like having the Malibu Dreamhouse set AND the interior design license to spruce it up. Because this movie is both silly and smart, heartfelt and wry, sincere and ironic. Thanks to Gerwig and her partner Noah Baumbach's endlessly inventive script, this movie feels like anything and everything it wants to be.
It is feminist, sure, (how can a Barbie movie not be?) but thanks largely to a rousing speech by put-upon Mattel employee and harried single mother Gloria (America Ferrera), it is also not afraid to call out the impossible demands that feminism places upon women. It is anti-patriarchy (you’ve never heard Matchbox 20’s “Push” until you’ve heard it deconstructed here), but not anti-men, as evidenced by Ryan Gosling's gloriously unhinged yet strangely empathetic performance as Ken.
It is a message movie, but also on the side of fun; the density of jokes (you'll need a second or third viewing to catch all of them) combined with Gerwig's assured handling of tentpole-level set pieces (a car chase here, a wonderfully surprising dance number featuring all the Kens there) are guaranteed to keep a smile plastered on your aching cheeks for the entirety of its two-hour running time.
And, miraculously, unexpectedly, it is also a coming-of-age story. At the center of Sarah Greenwood's meticulous production design and Jacqueline Durran's delicious costumes stands Margot Robbie's Stereotypical Barbie (Gerwig is too kindhearted a writer to call her Basic Barbie): innocent but not clueless; sometimes downhearted but never jaded; and when she has to leave Barbie Land for the Real World, is certainly a fish out of water but never a babe in the woods.
Stereotypical Barbie was the first Barbie ever created, lauded then vilified simply for her looks. And so it makes clever sense that in an alternate reality populated by President Barbie (Issa Rae), Nobel Prize-winning Barbie (Alexandra Shipp), and a host of Supreme Court Justice and Astronaut Barbies, she would be the Barbie most likely to question what she was made for. Speaking of which, by the time Billie Eilish's ballad cued up on the soundtrack, I could feel the sting of brimming tears in my eyes.
Barbie celebrates what it satirizes. And most of all, it holds fast to a sense of joy and never lets go. The doll may not be able to stand by itself, but you'll leave the theater with a bounce in your step.
Photos from IMDB