We’ve a friend who is very metrosexual taking longer to get himself ready to go out than our wives and girlfriends and so we asked him outright, ‘Have you had botox? He gave us all a look of surprise. In fact he always had a look of surprise on his face which he still has three months later and seems unable to have any other expression on his immoveable face. Our suspicions about him undergoing plastic surgery were raised one Christmas when he refused to sit near the open fire at The Nag’s Head so it seems appropriate that he was only too keen to see the new Barbie film.
Barbie is not the first film to have been based on a toy but unlike the testosterone fuelled Transformers films this incarnation of the film has its tongue firmly in its cheek. With a voiceover by Dame Helen Mirren explaining the rise of Barbie, via a 2001 A Space Odyssey pastiche, and now living in her own world existing alongside the real world, where the Barbie doll was responsible for solving so many equality issues amongst the sexes. But Barbie World, where everyone female is named Barbie, is very much dominated by the female doll with the male counterpart Ken (and yes, all the men are called Ken) exist to get the approval of Barbie none more so than Ken (Ryan Gosling) whose job is ‘beach’ existing solely to be on the beach and…. um… well that’s it. But wanting to be Barbie’s (Margot Robbie) girlfriend something that she is wholly and perhaps deliberately ignorant.
But it’s at Barbie’s house party that, completely out of the blue in a hitherto unknown moment of existential angst, she raises the concept of death in a needle drop moment. Determined to find out more she gets further advice from Weird Barbie (Kate McKinnon), a doll whose clothes are warped, her hair badly chopped and her face drawn on by her child owner, who explains that Barbie has somehow broken through the space time continuum to her owner into the real world (surely a dig at the later Marvel multiverse storylines) and Barbie determines to leave her world to address the issue and Ken is only keen to join her on her quest.
It’s here that Barbie and Ken find themselves in real world L.A. a place where surely a plastic couple should be able to blend in but instead stick out with their electric coloured clothing in what is initially a clash of culture comedy. It’s Barbie who goes to the toy manufacture head office led by Mattel CEO (will Ferrell) and his executives wanting her boxed up and sent back to Barbie world. However for Ken he quickly discovers that the this new world he finds himself in has men dominating almost everything , a concept that he quickly takes to and when the pair return to their own world he turns Barbie World into Ken-dom with all the Kens now lairy, boozy macho men and the Barbie’s all subservient to the whim and desire of every Ken.
Barbie as a toy has been around for decades and the toy has had accusations levelled at it of providing an idealized version of what a woman is and should look like with her impossible to achieve figure. Greta Gerwig, having helmed Little Women and Lady Bird all with a strong feminist subtext, is the ideal film maker for a project such as Barbie and has written a script with her regular collaborator Noah Baumbach that hits the mark often quite brilliantly. It’s taken many of the tropes of the story built around the couple and subverts them to often hilarious effect and Ryan Gosling especially shows what a deft comic actor he is.
There are a load of jokes here many at the expense of Mattel and kudos to them for allowing the film to poke film mercilessly at their toy and their very own CEO too. Gerwig and Baumbach have done their research with a number of gags taking in versions of the Barbie doll that were quickly discontinued (pregnant Barbie, a Barbie with a camera built into its chest). Add to this a great joke about Margot Robbie herself (one that brings the house down) and another that will have Zack Snyder fans trolling the film. But despite its brightly coloured seemingly bubblegum appeal there’s a strong feminist thread overtly running throughout all of this and its one that will go right over the heads of young children expecting this to be a simple boy meets girl love story and if anything though the film would initially appear to be one for the kids is really one for the grown ups especially the films end line which might leave mums awkwardly trying to explain it to a young child.
Barbie World is brilliantly realised with fantastic set design that recreates the plastic neon coloured land of the dolls and works both as a feminist satire and a summer blockbuster. Barbie is plastic fantastic
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Here’s the Barbie trailer…..