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Barbie | movie review

And Ken!

Barbies enjoying a disco dance number

Movie summary: Barbie suffers a crisis that leads her to question her world and her existence. (IMDb)

Well, Barbie was certainly an experience! It was very pink - making it very clear why this movie caused a global shortage of pink paint - and only a surprisingly small amount of time was spent in the 'real' world too. I was expecting something along the lines of The Lego Movie, but it somehow ended up being both sillier and also more serious than that film, which is quite the tightrope Greta Gerwig managed to walk as director.

First and foremost, it's a movie about how women are treated - or, more accurately, mistreated - with all the assorted Barbies and Kens (and other spin-off characters like Michael Cera's brilliant Allan) living quite happily, only for a brush with reality to undo all of the good times as Ryan Gosling's Ken imports toxic masculinity to Barbieland, resulting in the Barbies being reduced to second class citizens.

You can't really blame Ken either - lovable idiot that he is - when that seemed to be the case as far as he could see in the 'real' world, including a conversation with one company executive pointing out that big businesses have just got better at hiding their misogyny rather than actually reducing or eliminating it. Everywhere he looked, men were in control and things had been like that forever - which is unfortunately accurate when you look around.

America Ferrera's Gloria delivers a fantastic, emotional monologue late on about the impossible standards women are held to compared to men, proving to be not just the narrative key to help turn things around in Barbieland once the Kens have taken over, but also the scene that the women I watched the movie with talked about the most afterwards - something I can imagine being a pretty common occurrence across the planet right now.

Surprisingly though, while the movie is obviously centred around its title character(s), it also shines a brilliantly revealing light on toxic masculinity too - and not just through the misogyny inherent to the kind of behaviour that it includes, but also how much it damages the men who engage in said behaviour. Gosling's Ken flat out admits that despite Barbieland being turned into Kendom, he still wasn't happy.

Gosling's Ken simply wants the attention of Margot Robbie's Barbie, but struggles to deal with the fact that she has her own life and, while he has his part in it, she doesn't really need or want the same things from him that he does from her. Ken grows more and more frustrated with this and is primarily what leads him to introducing patriarchy to Barbieland in the hope that becoming dominant will result in the change from Barbie that he wants - which obviously doesn't work.

While I hope that as many women as possible watch this movie and come away showing the same determination the various Barbies do to stand up for themselves, I hope that as many men as possible also watch Barbie and change the way the treat women or even think about them - there's a lot for just about anyone in this movie.

Barbie and Ken get into a car 'crash' on the way from Barbieland to the real world.

There's been a lot of appreciation for Gosling's comedic talent - and surprisingly good singing voice - which is fairly deserved as his Ken does have arguably the most character development in Barbie. I won't argue against that view, but I really do think that Margot Robbie - despite being heavily praised herself - is still being tremendously underappreciated for her performance in the movie.

My favourite scene in the whole movie, and what I felt was the most emotional, is when Barbie is in the real world and she sits down to look at the world around her. She sees kids playing, a couple arguing, a guy sitting on a bench with his head in his hands and more, with the variety of life experiences on display causing her to cry and turn to the older woman sat next to her to tell her that she's beautiful.

It's a fairly short, almost dialogue-free moment, but Robbie's facial expressions and how you can see her Barbie taking in the people around her is probably the single greatest piece of acting in the entire film. There are other moments too where the camera lingers on her face so we can see how she's reacting to events and Robbie knocks it out of the park every single time, doing so much with so little that it beggars belief just how amazing she is in this role.

The praising of Gosling over Robbie really reminds me of how Chadwick Boseman's performance got overlooked in Black Panther thanks to 'bigger' performances from the supporting cast. Yet, just like that movie wouldn't have worked at all without Boseman acting as the lynchpin of the film, the same is true of Margot Robbie and Barbie - if she wasn't as good as she is in this film, it might well have flopped.

I thoroughly enjoyed Barbie from start to finish, with an appreciation for the efforts of everyone involved only elevated by how much my friends adored it too, and we'll probably go and see it again at some point. Just because the 'real' world in this movie is highly exaggerated - Barbieland is an actual place you can travel to from a California beach after all - that doesn't mean that what the film has to say has any less merit.

Barbie isn't a subtle movie, but that really doesn't matter because it has so much fun getting across a serious message that you really won't care. For young women and girls for whom this might well be the first movie they've ever seen that says the kind of things it does about how women are treated, it could well be a revelation - and with it's excellent critique of toxic masculinity, hopefully for a lot of boys and men too.

[9/10 - Great]



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