After a rather modest but timely glorified debut as Lady Bird and the slight step forward with the choral Little Women, the queen of mumblecore Greta Gerwig throws herself headlong into the world of Barbie, tackling, in his third film as director, not only an expected box-office movie but more importantly the most treacherous kind of Hollywood blockbuster possible: the blockbuster-for-hire focused on a consumer product.
recruiting her husband into the script Noah Baumbach, director of Marriage Story that launched her to worldwide success by directing her in Frances-ha and with whom he recently worked for White Noise on Netflix, and in turn recruited by superstar Margot Robbie (starring as Barbie, producer and decision-maker on the project), Gerwig is called upon to deal not only with the iconic doll from the Mattel and its history, including with other titles born with the same goal (pushing sales of the reference product) such as-just to name a few of the most successful-the explosive Transformers (about Hasbro toys) and the animated The Lego Movie (about LEGO bricks), or one of the greatest proudly capitalist films ever, Ben Affleck’s Air (about Nike Air shoes).
Only Greta Gerwig is not Ben Affleck, she is not Phil Lord & Chris Miller, and she is definitely not Michael Bay.
Barbie: a plastic feminism
Beyond a few really successful visual insights – almost all of which are presented in the very first few minutes, from the difference between ‘feet a la Barbie’ and ‘flat feet’ to the beautiful hard plastic beach, a highlight of the fantastic shocking pink sets that make up the world of Barbieland, the one where the various Barbie dolls live and the various Ken and which is connected to ours with a few scripted passages held together by duct tape and a bit of saliva but mostly by other beautiful 1920s movie sets that ours can ‘walk through’ at will to travel from one reality to the other – Greta Gerwig’s Barbie never manages to find a balance between its moralistic and social intentions and its need to criticize the object it is supposed to propagate, now referred to as ‘fascist’ and the handbrake of true feminism (because over the years it has helped spread a retrograde idea of women in society), now considered the vehicle for pushing every little girl to realize herself into the woman she wants to be when she grows up (in Barbieland the Barbies (the women) are in charge in a utopian society that is the opposite of the patriarchal one Barbie will discover in the real world and in which the lords (the Ken) are the gregarious ladies’ men: like reviewing Olivia Wilde’s Don’t worry darling, but flipped).
The film is never told or constructed through its mythology, but solely and exclusively through its message: rather the film is the message, that of progressive and ‘woke’ culture, but he is so terribly worried and busy to spread his ideals that forget about building ideas, about storytelling, about filmmaking, which can go beyond the easy dialogic plank to feed into the images and really stick in the memory.
Ryan Gosling’s Ken
What sticks out, however, and is a resounding paradox, is Ryan Gosling’s magnificent Ken: there are those who, perhaps exaggerating as is often the case in these cases, are already talking about a possible nomination to theOscars 2024 as best supporting actor, but most of the fun that Barbie film has to offer (and, fortunately, it really is a lot: the levity and irony are so abundant that they can survive the morality lessons) comes not so much from Barbie as from the eternal second Ken (who is also the only character in the film to have a story arc).
In short, if you are looking for a film that is uncouth, subtle, and easily avoids every manner of the most simplistic cinema possible, you might not want to stop with Barbie: the scene in which the Hayley Atwell’s Grace calls Tom Cruise’s Ethan Hunt a pervert by managing to turn the tide in his favor at the beginning of the long Rome sequence of Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning: Part One, manages to say far more about contemporary society than Barbie does in half an hour.