Review by John P. Harvey.
Its central characters and colour scheme already familiar wherever plastic toys are sold, Barbie opens with a scene of surprising girl violence against dolls. Girls whose dolls have traditionally always represented babies are suddenly exposed to something new — an idealised woman as a doll — and, hilariously emulating the opening of 2001: A Space Odyssey, put their old baby dolls to unique uses, forever terminating their owners’ imaginary confinement to visions of motherhood.
This girls’ revolution appears to have established a transformative role for Barbie (Margot Robbie) in the lives of little girls everywhere, and in that context we meet the movie’s title character, living, in Barbieland, her life of consumerist heaven with pals distinguishable from her only in superficial appearance — until the day she finds herself with thoughts of sadness and death. Learning that her owner, the little girl who has been playing with her, is the source of these thoughts, Barbie obtains directions to the real world in order to find that girl and straighten things out. Naturally, her nominal boyfriend, Ken (Ryan Gosling), comes along for the ride.
With this setup for Barbie and Ken’s sojourn into the real world, superficially the movie appears to make a case for feminism and a suggestion that wanton consumption of plastic goods is a means of raising one’s spirits. Upon impressionable children, and upon others only half listening, it may indeed have that effect. Interestingly, rather different viewpoints emerge with close attention, exposing the hypocrisies of both radical consumerism and radical feminism in letting others bear the real costs of their eerily similar dedications to having it all. Beneath its superficial charms and lunacies lurks a movie with occasional bursts of such insights.
Let neither its obvious vacuity nor its less obvious intelligence discourage anybody from seeing it, though: it’s a lot of fun. For its plot complexity, some may find it a little lengthy. Nonetheless, with actors of the calibre of Gosling and Robbie and ironic narration by Helen Mirren; uncompromising production, including an enormous dance scene; bursts of dramatic action and humour; and the aforesaid gems of insight, it’s a movie most can get a kick from.