Maybe some of you are like me, a grumpy ol’ cinephile who cynically rolled your eyes upon first learning a live-action movie was being made based on Barbie. This just had to be yet another cash-grab capitalizing on brand name familiarity, aimed squarely at audiences who don’t know any better. The pandering teaser trailer didn’t sway my opinion, either.
But I initially thought the same thing about The Lego Movie, which ended up being one of the best films of 2014, so maybe this one would defy my expectations. Either way, I was about to find out because my wife and daughter insisted we see it in a theater.
I don’t think I’m ready to declare Barbie one of the best films of 2023, but it sure is a lot of fun, especially on the big screen, where its bright and beautiful artifice is best experienced. Even if one still contends this is more of a big, brash product than an actual movie (which I no longer do), it’s a visual wonder…mostly accomplished with actual set & production design rather than CGI.
|"If it's your first time at Fight Club, you have to fight."
However, I didn’t expect the underlying themes prevalent in the narrative. Aside from exploring subjects of feminism and masculinity (which had a few media mouth-breathers in an uproar), the film’s existential elements definitely raise it above the typical high-concept summer blockbuster. Ultimately, we can thank director/-co-writer Greta Gerwig for making Barbie a much better film than it probably needed to be.
Okay, she had a little help. With the exception of Will Ferrell, totally unfunny in a distractingly gratuitous role, just about every performance suits the tone of the movie, especially Margot Robbie and Ryan Gosling, who perfectly embody Barbie & Ken.
Already the biggest film for 2023, it’ll likely be the biggest home video release, too. With hindsight, I can see why. Movies like this tend to stand up to repeated viewings, if for no other reason than to catch everything one might have missed the first time. Not bad for what I first assumed would be a two-hour toy commercial. Who knew?
FEATURETTES - It's a Weird World (developing Kate McKinnon’s “Weird Barbie” character); All Star Barbie Party (casting the movie); Becoming Barbie (Margot Robbie’s role); Welcome to Barbieland (set design); Playing Dress-Up (costume design).