Rant and Rave: The plastic world of ‘Barbie’ fleshes out an earnest take on the human experience and womanhood

Greta Gerwig takes us on an amusing ride through Barbieland, past the shiny houses and into a doll’s existential feelings.

Heartfelt and sincere, Barbie paints the world pink as moviegoers dress in various shades of fuchsia to celebrate its release. The film has dominated the global box office in recent weeks together with Christopher Nolan’s historical drama Oppenheimer, riding on the much-awaited internet phenomenon dubbed “Barbenheimer”. 

Barbie did not disappoint as it made its way to becoming one of the most iconic films of its generation. Greta Gerwig—who co-wrote the movie with filmmaker partner Noah Baumbach—helms a sincere story of human experience and womanhood through Barbie, enhanced by great performances from a star-studded ensemble cast and its stunning visuals. 

Hi Barbie! Hi Ken!

The film’s beating heart lies in Margot Robbie’s performance as she captures the essence of the iconic Mattel doll, taking the role of Stereotypical Barbie—the doll that everyone immediately envisions when they think of Barbie. She is blonde, blue-eyed, and has no distinguishable characteristics other than being Barbie. Robbie gracefully––and literally––fills in Barbie’s shoes through her own physique and charm; her presence is almost perplexing as the audience watches her breathe life into what was once a still figure. 

When the story calls for Robbie to emote, she comes through with aplomb, and her ability to portray a wide range of expressions is put on full display. The somber notes of Billie Eilish’s What Was I Made For? amplify the emotional weight of Robbie’s acting, which forms part of the film’s superb soundtrack together with tracks by Dua Lipa, Nicki Minaj, Ice Spice, and Aqua, among other renowned artists. 

Ryan Gosling, whose amount of screen time is only second to Robbie’s, serves as the literal Ken to her Barbie. Gosling proves he was born to play the role of Ken as his comedic acting chops shine throughout the film. His utmost commitment to the absurd silliness of Ken’s character is worthy of praise, making it hard to imagine any other Hollywood actor who could take on the role. 

Alongside the Barbies and Kens are human characters who bring their own charm and wit to the film; one who shines brightest is America Ferrera’s Gloria. Though Ferrera’s screen time may be limited, her charismatic presence is felt throughout the film and becomes adored as she takes center stage during an impassioned monologue in the film’s climax, easily capturing the hearts of many viewers. 

Life in plastic, it’s fantastic

On top of the ensemble cast’s performance, Barbie’s stunning visual direction adds another layer of charm to the film. To see Barbieland come to life is an experience in and of itself, most especially in an early scene where Stereotypical Barbie wakes up to a perfect day. The “plastic-ness’’ of toys was perfectly captured in the objects that Barbie interacts with—the mirror that doesn’t show her reflection, the shower that doesn’t run water, and the carton that doesn’t pour out milk. The eventual comedic gags involving these objects only work because of how set designers replicated the physics of the small toys that came with Barbie dolls, almost as if they came straight out of the box. 

But it is Gerwig and Baumbach’s writing which sets Barbie apart from recent intellectual-property-centric blockbusters: they offer you a seemingly unassuming package wrapped prettily in pink tin foil, yet as you unwrap each layer of fuchsia, a heartfelt story is revealed. While Barbie may only seem like a quippy, one-dimensional adventure blockbuster to some, it takes unexpected turns to an exploration of womanhood and existentialism, defying its leading expectations. In its simplest form, Barbie is about the human experience: growing up, discovering purpose, and embracing the urge to imagine and create.  

The irony of it all

Following its release, Barbie has sparked interesting conversations on feminism,  particularly on how it is tackled through the film’s narrative. Moviegoers and critics alike claim that Barbie’s take on feminism “is not radical enough” and “fails to consider intersectionality.” Such criticism is not only valid but necessary; however, it does not consider the facts. Barbie is a film based on a popular intellectual property whose main audience is young girls and is distributed by a billion-dollar corporation that has the intention of making it as palatable as possible—both of which are barriers to a comprehensive discussion on feminism within its less than two-hour runtime. 

These criticisms unveil the industry’s ironic expectations for female filmmakers to produce radical and feminist art. While Gerwig’s previous work, such as Little Women and Lady Bird, portrays women’s struggles in an authentic and grounded manner, they are focused on individual existence, rather than systemic issues. Similarly, Barbie explores feminist themes in a way that is real and relatable to a female audience, which is most evident in Gloria’s monologue as she talks about the difficulties that women experience on the daily. While Barbie may not have intended to provide its audience with an all-encompassing take on feminism, women were given the film’s spotlight, which is a feat in and of itself with a blockbuster of this scale. 

Barbie continues to solidify Greta Gerwig’s position as an exceptional filmmaker because her creative direction peeks through, regardless of the film’s budget. Focused on an emotional core that resonates with a wide range of audiences, the film is an excellent showcase of purposefully crafted visuals, which enhances the performances of Robbie, Gosling, and Ferrera. Whether or not you grew up playing dress-up with Barbie dolls, there is something for you to enjoy in the pink world of Barbie
This goes to show that intellectual property can serve as proficient tools for genuine storytelling, should they be led by the right directors and writers. In an industry that is constantly trying to rehash well-loved ideas through reboots and sequels, Barbie remains fresh and compelling while still satisfying the audience’s itch for nostalgia, all because of Gerwig’s skillful and driven storytelling. Hopefully, Hollywood does not learn the wrong lessons from Barbie’s box office success and attempt to replicate it by digging through Mattel’s toy box to search for the next property to adapt on the big screen.

Rating: 4.0/4.0

Gwen Lizano

By Gwen Lizano

Whaqyn Olalia

By Whaqyn Olalia

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