Margot Robbie and Ryan Gosling in Greta Gerwig Comedy – The Hollywood Reporter

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There’s just no God in Greta Gerwig Barbie (if you don’t count omniscient narrator Helen Mirren), but the director tries to create myths. Barbieland, a parallel universe with versions of the Mattel doll, is her sandbox. The big archive of the toy conglomerate, a collection of successful products, medium and merchant opinions on stop, the tools.

Gerwig revels in the richness and strangeness of her material in this crazy series of Barbie dolls and their busy legacy. It’s impressive how the director, known for her sharp dramas and detailed documentaries, has ventured into a corporate film. Barbie is driven by a joke – sometimes laugh-out-loud, always laugh-worthy – that pokes light fun at Mattel, that pokes fun at the doll’s lore and gestures at the contradictions of our sexual society.


The bottom line

A difficult balancing act of corporate loyalty and subversion.

Release date: Friday, July 21
Cast: Margot Robbie, Ryan Gosling, Kate McKinnon, America Ferrera, Ariana Greenblatt, Issa Rae, Rhea Perlman, Will Ferrell
Director: Greta Gerwig
Screenwriters: Greta Gerwig, Noah Baumbach

Rated PG-13, 1 hour 54 minutes

With Gerwig, the joy is always in the details. Her Barbieland – thanks to Sarah Greenwood’s production design and Jacqueline Durran’s costumes – is a pink fever dream. A phantasmagoria of magenta and blush with a soundtrack of funky compositions by Mark Ronson and Andrew Wyatt, bubblegum anthems from Dua Lipa, Nicki Minaj and Ice Spice. Plastic trees and two-story Barbie dream homes alike line every avenue of this manufactured seaside neighborhood. Vehicles without engines move on the road but their preferred mode of transport is flying. Think about it: Have you ever seen Barbie take the stairs?

An army of Kens patrols the land’s pristine beaches. The chiseled dolls can’t save a drowning person or anyone for that matter, but they stand around and look good. Barbies do the real work: she is the president and all the members of the Supreme Court. She is a doctor and a physicist. She has won every Nobel prize and may have cured cancer. Barbieland is a feminist utopia as an inversion of our patriarchal reality. Voiceover narration by Mirren adds to its storybook quality.

Not surprisingly, Barbieland is no different from our world. The production doll has become an extension of political fantasy, an exercise in decade-long what-ifs. Barbie went into space, could vote and owned property long before many women could. Her perspective has also changed, changing to reflect society’s politics of beauty.

Gerwig shows off her pink look with a range of Barbies played by an amazing and star-studded cast: Issa Rae, Emma Mackey, Alexandra Shipp and Hari Nef are some of the faces in the film. But the main character of this funny and fun comedy is Stereotypical Barbie (Margot Robbie), the blond-haired, blue-eyed manifestation of Ruth Handler’s imagination. Her colleague Ken is played with touching heart and humor by Ryan Gosling (with Simu Liu, Kingsley Ben-Adir and John Cena among the film’s other assorted Kens). The couple is a version of Eve and Adam, if Eve was God’s favorite and Adam was acknowledged as the responsibility he was.

Their fall is less accurate but just as dramatic. When Barbie finds her perfect life suddenly surrounded by existential thoughts, she seeks answers from Weird Barbie (Kate McKinnon), a doll with a terrible history (played by “too hard”) on to turn her into a sage in the kingdom. On Barbie’s advice, Stereotypical Barbie, with Ken too eager in tow, heads to Los Angeles in the real world to find her little girl. The relationship between Barbies and their human owners is strictly defined, so it’s best not to think too deeply about how it all works.

California shatters Barbie’s sense of self and strengthens Ken’s sense of self. Despite how the patriarchy has shaped the human world, Barbie realizes that she and her fellow blacks may not be as exciting as they believed.

Greta enters au curant narrative through Barbie’s encounters with real people: the male leadership series of Mattel (which includes Will Ferrell playing CEO); Sasha (Ariana Greenblatt), a teenager whose disdain for Mattel dolls is overshadowed by her hatred of fascism; and Sasha’s mother Gloria (a wonderful America Ferrera), Mattel’s secretary with an indiscriminate love of toys.

Those who worried that the film would make an unprovoked attack on Handler’s technique have little to say. Barbie lives up to its first line: “If you love Barbie… if you hate Barbie, this movie is for you.”

There is a cost however to accomplishing this mission. There is tension between trying to keep Gerwig Barbie fun and to weave her original material with the emotional potential of her previous projects. After an unplanned trip separates her from Ken, Barbie makes her way back home ready to restore perfection to her routine. But it’s hard to come home; Barbie returns to see that Ken, with his new knowledge of the patriarchy, has transformed Barbieland.

The film largely avoids treading familiar ground (I’m thinking specifically of Life size, Disney’s early-aughts attempt at the doll-interacting-with-a-person thing) or be as he jokes because of Gerwig and Noah Baumbach’s clever screenplay, which sprinkles winking jokes throughout. The moments that don’t just laugh at them and with the crowd, however, are moved into long, important monologues that, with each statement, reduce the impact of the message. The moves feel weak politically because the truth is that a film with this mandate cannot do it all.

In some ways, Barbie building on the themes Gerwig explored in it Lady Bird and Little Women. The film grapples with a complicated journey of self-definition and the mercurial relationships between mothers and daughters. It is full of the questions that engage artists and women in a society with an interest in regions.

The tension between Barbie as object and subject can be particularly understood through Robbie’s performance. Barbie’s heightened awareness plays over the expressive eyes of the actress, who are gradually weighed down by the forces of the human world. Her physical presence also tells us something: Robbie moves mechanically in Barbieland because she’s a toy, but who’s to say she’s not as tough in the real world?

But Gerwig’s done brilliantly Barbie that is, ominousness disturbs the whole exercise. The director has successfully carved her signature and drawn deeper themes out of a tight frame, but the sacrifices to the story are clear. The muddy politics and emotional smooth landing Barbie are indications that the final image serves a brand.

This wouldn’t be so worrisome if the future of movies wasn’t ruined by Mattel’s licensing intentions. After all, we can’t get all our humanitarian lessons from corporate toy makers.

Full credits

Distributor: Warner Bros.
Production companies: Heyday Films, LuckyChap Entertainment, NB/GG Pictures, Mattel
Cast: Margot Robbie, Ryan Gosling, America Ferrera, Ariana Greenblatt, Kate McKinnon, Issa Rae, Rhea Perlman, Will Ferrell, Alexandra Shipp, Emma Mackey, Hari Nef, Dua Lipa, Simu Liu, Kingsley Ben-Adir, Helen Mirren, John That’s Michael Cera
Director: Greta Gerwig
Screenwriters: Greta Gerwig, Noah Baumbach
Producers: David Heyman, Margot Robbie, Tom Ackerley, Robbie Brenner
Executive producers: Greta Gerwig, Noah Baumbach, Ynon Kreiz, Richard Dickson, Michael Sharp, Josey McNamara, Courtenay Valenti, Toby Emmerich, Cate Adams
Director of photography: Rodrigo Prieto
Production Designer: Sarah Greenwood
Costume Designer: Jacqueline Durran
Music: Mark Ronson, Andrew Wyatt
Editor: Nick Houy
Cast: Allison Jones, Lucy Bevan

Rated PG-13, 1 hour 54 minutes

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