Directed by: Greta Gerwig
Written by: Greta Gerwig, Noah Baumbach
Starring: Margot Robbie, Ryan Gosling, America Ferrera, Kate McKinnon, Issa Rae, Rhea Perlman, Will Ferrell
Released: July 20, 2023
Grade: A-


There are signs of fatigue but we’re still living in an era where major Hollywood studios are playing it safe by banking on sequels, reboots, and established universes.  In 2022, the top 10 movies at the U.S. box-office all fit into that description (Elvis was the highest grossing original film in 12th place).  Barbie looks set to break that trend in 2023.  Helped by a relentless marketing campaign, the box-office predictions are strong and it’s on track to be an “original” hit.  Regardless of what you think of the movie, that itself is worthy of applause.

Directed by the accomplished Greta Gerwig (Lady Bird, Little Women), Barbie reminds of me a bright, colourful, entertaining Broadway musical.  Using a mix of humour, dance, music, and over-the-top acting, Gerwig provides us with a fun two-hours where the purpose of every scene is to surprise, dazzle and entertain audiences.  There’s seldom a dull moment.

I’m stunned Mattel signed off on the screenplay… but glad they did.  It’s a self-aware storyline spread across two universes.  The first is Barbieland – an idyllic place where women have priority.  There’s a female president, an all-female Supreme Court, and issues like gender equality are never spoken of.  The landscape, from the housing to the clothing, are dominated by 10,000 shades of pink, and everyone walks around in a Groundhog Day-like state of blissful happiness.  It’s also worth mentioning that every woman is called Barbie and every man is called Ken (creating opportunity for humour which extends until the closing credits).

The other universe is the Real World.  There, a group of profit-driven men led by the CEO sit around a heart-shaped table on the top floor of Mattel headquarters in Los Angeles wondering how to sell more Barbie dolls and improve their bottom line.  Just outside the boardroom is Gloria (Ferrera), a hard-working toy designer who, influenced by a semi mid-life crisis, is starting to pencil some “darker” Barbie designs.

In the same vein as Gary Ross’ must-see 1998 comedy Pleasantville, there is a rip in the “continuum” which allows characters to travel between the two worlds.  It allows Stereotypical Barbie (Robbie) to see the pros and cons of a more realistic world, but the broader character arc belongs to Ryan Gosling who, as the ab-displaying Ken, is transformed from a submissive accessory into a quasi-villain exploring the idea of patriarchy.

A few characters are undercooked – Ariana Greenblatt as a teenager, Will Ferrell as the Mattel CEO, Michael Cera as a life-finding Allan – but Barbie is a fun journey from start to finish.  Gerwig and co-writer Noah Baumbach (The Squid and the Whale) spread the jokes far and wide.  Some of it is simple – like the way no liquids exist in Barbieland because that’s how toys are – and some of it is edgy – the background to Rhea Perlman’s character, and Margot Robbie’s final spoken line.

It’s not often I get to say this…. but Barbie is a creative Hollywood blockbuster which stands out from the pack.  Bravo!