At the Movies with Alan Gekko: Barbie “2023”

At the Movies with Alan Gekko: Barbie “2023”

MPAA Rating: PG-13/ Genre: Fantasy Comedy/Stars: Margot Robbie, Ryan Gosling, America Ferrera, Rhea Perlman, Will Ferrell, Kate McKinnon, Issa Rae, Hari Nef, Alexandra Shipp, Emma Mackey, Sharon Rooney, Dua Lipa, Nicola Coughlan, Ana Cruz Kayne, Ritu Arya, Kingsley Ben-Adir, Simu Liu, Scott Evans, Ncuti Gatwa, Rob Brydon, John Cena, Michael Cera, Ariana Greenblatt, Jamie Demetriou, Connor Swindells, Helen Mirren, Emerald Fennell, Ann Roth, Annie Mumolo, Marisa Abela/Runtime: 114 minutes

I think it’s safe to say that as someone who grew up in the 90s, but whose heart and soul will always belong to the 70s and 80s, it is by no means a new phenomenon yet no less soul-crushing to see certain beloved pieces of childhood from the era in question be snatched up by the Hollywood machine and quickly have every single bit of what made them timeless mercilessly ripped to shreds. Perhaps this is why when iconic toy company Mattel made clear that they had plans to create a cinematic universe for their toys I rolled my eyes, shook my head, and just thought about how great it will be to save money not taking my cousin’s kids to a single one of them (as much as they might pester me otherwise). I mean I might not be the brightest bulb in the pack, but I am pretty confident that there is not a single person in the world who would love to see Polly Pocket, Barbie, and He-Man team up Marvel-style and drive Hot Wheels in order to find the Magic 8 Ball which will help them take down the diabolical machinations of Skeletor and the Sock’em Robots. Yet despite that knowledge in mind, the fact that Mattel is actually in some form of development on all of these, and others, just makes me wonder if the future of cinema is not going to come from coming up with new ideas, but instead to just adapt every single property that isn’t nailed down to the floor in some way. All of which brings me to the slice of cinema I am reviewing for you today, 2023’s Barbie movie. A movie that I must admit I was by no means looking forward to. Not just because I have never even remotely had any desire to associate myself with the doll or her boyfriend Ken, but because I didn’t want to go colorblind due to the tidal wave of pink that I was sure I would see both on and off screen. Yet, upon seeing it, I find myself having to admit a difficult truth: this slice of cinema is actually a genuinely great movie. I mean it’s creative, definitely colorful, vibrant, funny, heartfelt, and brought to life beautifully both behind and in front of the camera. To be sure, there are some issues here and there with this particular film, but by and large this slice of cinema is one that I think can be appreciated and cherished by everyone be they someone who grew up playing with the doll to even (maybe just maybe) a more than slightly grumpy curmudgeon of a film critic who never has ever had any interaction with the titular toy outside her appearances in the Toy Story movies.

The plot is as follows: So according to the lore set up by the film, there exists a magical land called Barbieland (how original). To mere mortals like you or me this might sound imaginary, but for this movie’s sake this is the land where all the Barbies reside. A land that, true to how the titular denizens of this magical land think we in the so-called real world spend our days, is a female paradise where women are in charge of virtually everything, any day is a good beach day, every night is one for the girls to just dance the night away, and even the smallest details about the men (all named Ken by the way) right down to where exactly they live are all a complete and utter mystery before going to bed and then proceeding to do the same thing the very next day. As good as life is though, we soon see things start to take a turn when our main heroine begins to have some odd thoughts about things like mortality and body image begin sneaking up on her. Thoughts that, if left unchecked, could have the very real potential to decimate her and the Barbies’ otherwise perfect world. As a result, we see that our heroine, with a lovestruck Ken along for the ride, decides to make the trip to our world on a mission to find and provide solace to the human who has her in their possession so that maybe she can start to restore balance to her world. However, upon her arrival in our world, we see that Barbie is completely stunned to see that our world seems to be a terrifyingly complete 180 from the one that she just left behind. Thus can Barbie, with the aid of a woman and her daughter from our world, evade the nefarious CEO of Mattel and fix things back in her world or is Barbie Land and all of the magic contained therein about to go bye bye for good? That I will leave for you to discover for yourself dear reader…..

Now right off the ol’ doll, it is worth pointing out that with two other cinematic franchises already having the cinematic market of day to day lives of toys fairly well defined, this film definitely seemed like it had the humor and visuals down, but the emotional core was very much in question. Thankfully, I can say it’s not long into this film for the wonderful script, as penned by helmer Greta Gerwig and Noah Baumbach, to showcase this narrative has more at play than just dance parties.  This is because, due to the main character becoming more aware of her status as a toy to say nothing of the unrealistic nature of her world, this film is able to contribute a very adult take to things that some of those other franchises have been unable to. Yes, I have no doubt that there is a take on this film that is perhaps a bit bleaker and more unnerving than what we got, but it is also worth pointing out that some of the places this film is able to go to will definitely surprise you especially knowing this film had the full cooperation of Barbie parent company Mattel. No I’m not talking about the, as to be expected with a PG-13 rating, the bits of innuendo-laced comedy throughout. Rather, I’m talking about how, main idea aside, Mattel actually let itself be represented as a villain in this story as personified fairly effectively by Will Ferrell (who I’m just glad to see in something good again)’s man-child CEO and his board who are all male. Yes I would not be surprised if some things were omitted, but what Gerwig is doing brilliantly here is show that Barbie can be an inspiration as well as a detriment to female empowerment at the same time. We also see that the work done by the costumes department on this film manages to do terrific at bringing Barbie’s distinct wardrobe to life on the big screen whilst the production design team have managed to give audiences a take on Barbie’s world that is literally a little girl’s dream come to life right down to the recreations of Barbie’s Dream Home which definitely look like the ones I had to lay eyes on in the dentist’s office a time or two. Along with these components though, I will also say that the work done by the cinematography is downright gorgeous to say nothing of operating as a fond tribute to that distinct Old Hollywood technicolor style especially when it comes to some of the very vibrant and lively song and dance numbers present in the film. Speaking of I think it can be safely said that this slice of cinema, more than anything else, very much operates as proof that I want to see Greta Gerwig should definitely tackle a musical at some point in her directorial career. I mean from the first big dance number all the way to a fantastic power ballad that would have been right at home in the 80s called “I’m Just Ken,” Gerwig does a fantastic job at showing not only a skill, but also a heartfelt passion towards recreating such iconic Hollywood musicals of yesteryear like Singin’ in the Rain and Cabaret among others. Suffice I to say then that in terms of work being done behind the camera this film is a genuine treat for the eyes, the ears, and the heart all at once.

Of course, the other big element that works to this slice of cinema’s favor would have to come in the form of the top-tier cast of players assembled in front of the camera to bring the various characters to life. This starts, surprise surprise, with Margot Robbie as the titular take on the iconic character and she is truly phenomenal here. Yet not only is her charisma and comedic chops here synced up perfectly to that of the most famous doll in the planet, but Robbie does a terrific job at really providing her take on the character with a bit of gravitas and pathos as well especially in the final act of the movie where don’t be surprised if you find yourself holding back a tear or 5. Indeed it is not that often nowadays where you see an actor as perfectly tied to a role as Robbie is here, but that just manages to make the end result that much more magical. Along with that, we see that even though the movie is called “Barbie”, this story is just as much an odyssey for the character of Ken. In that regard, Ryan Gosling is absolutely phenomenal here. Not just in terms of being funny because Gosling has shown for quite awhile that he is a genuine talent to be reckoned with in that department, but also because of the arc that this film gives him. Indeed to say a lot about Ken’s arc here would be a bit of a spoiler so what I will say is that this man child with a heart of gold gets to stroll down some very intriguing paths in this film. Paths that, in the wrong hands, would make this character come off as one-dimensional at best and a parody at worst. Fortunately, not only does Gosling make it work, but he also comes very close to just walking off with the whole movie at times. Indeed, I know the Oscars can be kinda weird when it comes to rewarding comedic work, but I am definitely of the mindset that Gosling’s performance deserves at the very least to be nominated. Not just for his bold dedication to making the comedic bits work, but also for his ability to find the pathos and humanity to this witless yet decent all things considered guy. We also get an immensely impressive supporting turn here from not only Kate McKinnon who is perfectly cast as the so-called “Weird Barbie”, but also from America Ferrera in the role of Mattel employee Gloria. Indeed here is a character that is very much meant to be the perspective of the movie goer in this situation and Ferrera does a wonderful job at not only conveying that, but also in delivering a stirring and quite emotional monologue in this that is easily one of the best moments of the entire film. Suffice it to say that when you also include winning efforts from such talents as Will Ferrell, Simu Liu who is fantastic as a rival Ken of sorts, Kinglsey Ben-Adir, Scott Evans, Issa Rae, Emma Mackey, Alexandra Shipp, Dua Lipa, Ariana Greenblatt, and some surprises I’ll leave for you to discover for yourself among others I think it can be said that every single person in this truly is brilliantly chosen for their respective role and as a result help to make this film even more magical than it already is.

All in all and at the end of the day, is Barbie “2023” a perfect slice of cinema by any stretch of the imagination? Honestly no. With that in mind though, is this the worst thing ever to happen to this distinct and iconic character? Not by a long shot. Rather, I would say that this particular slice of cinema manages to be a genuinely great surprise that, I have no shame in admitting, I was not expecting to be as good as it was, but I am honored to have been proven wrong by all the same. More than that, this is a film that despite placing a concentration on the most famous doll on the planet to say nothing of the bond that society has with her, also surprisingly deals quite heavily with the inseparable tie that exists between the narratives that we as people conjure up both as kids and as adults to help us cope with the anxiety of how limited our lifetimes truly are. Indeed it is because of that anxiety, however subconsciously, that I think people of all ages play with Barbie dolls in the first place. It’s not just because of the stylish clothes, the cars she drives, how iconic the character is, the fact that there are so many different kinds of Barbie dolls, or simply because it’s the only toy available in the waiting room at the doctor’s office though I think that all of those things certainly play a part in it for a lot of people. Rather, I think it’s because of the fact that even though for all of us there is only one way our narrative can end, the truth is that for a doll like Barbie and all that she stands for there are so many ways her story can manage to keep on going forever and forever should we permit it do so. A testament to not just our inherent desire to appreciate the beauty of life, but also to the power of the human imagination. Suffice it to say then that, when looking at this film through that distinct prism of thought, Barbie is a very much drenched in pink summer cinematic party that, with the aid of wonderful work behind the camera as well as top-tier work in front of the camera by a spot-on cast of players with fantastic efforts from Margot Robbie and Ryan Gosling leading the way, is one party that will make you laugh, make you cry, and make you think, but also certainly leave you more than satisfied and maybe even be one party that you hope you get invited back to attend time and time again. Make of that dear reader what thou will. On a scale of 1-5 I give Barbie “2023” a solid 4 out of 5.