When I first heard there was going to be a live-action Barbie, I honestly cringed.
Then, I heard that Greta Gerwig was attached to direct.
"Okay, maybe," I thought to myself.
Then, I heard that the extraordinary Margot Robbie was also attached to star as Barbie.
"Okay, Okay. This could actually work," I further thought to myself. "It could be awful, of course, but it could also really, really work," I finally found myself accepting.
Then, out of nowhere I heard that Ryan Gosling, yeah that Ryan Gosling, was attached as Ken.
"I'm all in," I practically shouted.
If you know anything about me, you know that Gosling's Lars and the Real Girl is one of my favorite films of all-time. It's a film that simply shouldn't have worked and yet Gosling's ability to channel absurdity and pathos and hope into this impossibly quirky yet endearing story captured my heart and mind and has made me a lifelong Gosling fan.
I've been waiting for years for Gosling to tackle another role within that same cinematic vein.
Gosling's Ken is such a role and I'm all here for it.
Barbie shouldn't work. Barbie does work. Gloriously. Barbie is spirited and funny, poignant and meaningful. Barbie is a pastel kaleidoscope of party-time perfection that cements Gerwig's status as one of this generation's upper-tier directors, a visionary artist with both the discipline to make a technically flawless film and the passion to make us care about it all. Barbie is everything I could want it to be.
Barbie isn't woke. It's awake. It's awake with a mind, body, spirit, and even soul that recognizes where Barbie has been, where Barbie is currently, and where Barbie needs to transform for future generations. The script, co-written by Gerwig with Noah Baumbach, embraces not just the original blonde bombshell personified by Robbie but also the six decades of Barbies since that have increasingly come to represent the Barbie worldview. While Ken (Gosling) and Barbie (Robbie) are here, there are other Kens and Barbies here and there's a stunning, absolutely stunning Barbie universe that simply can't be described. It has to be and ought to be experienced.
We're introduced to Stereotypical Barbie in an exceptional way, the way early generations experienced her as always fresh, always perfect, and always in paradise. Yet, there's an aural experience of Lizzo and we know we're in for something different.
It's inspired how Gerwig immerses us in this world and yet also immerses us in reality, the latter an immersion practically tailor-made for the unique wonder that is Kate McKinnon here as Weird Barbie. The journey that follows is weird and sweet and funny and perhaps a bit too pointed but always satisfying. Ariana Greenblatt dazzles as Sasha; America Ferrera is quietly the heart and soul of Barbie as a Mattel employee named Gloria whose life has caused some chaos within the Barbie paradise. It could have so easily gone wrong, but it goes unfathomably right.
Whoever decided upon the Gosling/Robbie coupling deserves a raise. Chemistry is a weird thing. You can so easily take two brilliantly talented people and they simply can't bring it to life together. There are a myriad of reasons why, but sometimes it simply doesn't work. Everything works here - I partially credit, of course, the brilliance of both Robbie and Gosling. However, I also credit Gerwig for creating a safe set where creative vulnerability was obviously encouraged and miracles happened.
Robbie as Barbie is nothing short of inspired. Robbie brings to life a Stereotypical Barbie that we can't help but believe in and root for and wish her the best. This is a brilliant performance filled with style and substance, heart and thought and so much more.
The same is true for Gosling's Ken, a fun and elevated performance that shines brightly without ever outshining Barbie herself. He's, after all, "just Ken." I've always loved this side of Gosling's acting and watching it come to life here made me love and maybe even shed a tear. Mark my words. Gosling will be remembered come awards season.
Yes, it's true that Barbie can get a bit talkie especially in its latter half. There are a whole lot of ideas percolating here and a whole lot of things to be said. It's as if Gerwig is giving every Barbie their voices after six decades of stereotypical silence.
Barbie is unleashed and it's brilliant and brilliantly fun.
Sarah Greenwood's production design is exemplary. The lensing of Rodrigo Prieto is energized and exciting yet seemingly always aware there's a whole lot more going on than meets the eye here. Kudos, as well, for Nick Huoy's editing and the art direction of Andrew Max Cahn.
Again, in bring to life the Barbie universe Gerwig has also assembled a remarkably gifted and inspired ensemble of cast and crew.
There are so many strong supporting performances that I hesitate to mention them out of fear of missing someone - Will Ferrell is having a blast as the Mattel Ceo and John Cena impresses as another Ken alongside the likes of Simu Liu, Ncuti Gatwa, and Scott Evans. Hari Nef, Emma Mackey, and Ana Cruz Kayne all impress as alternative expressions of Barbie.
Seriously, there's just so much I loved here.
In a world where we're desperately needing to feel good, Barbie is a consummately and divinely and inspiringly feel-good experience for the Barbie and the Ken in all of us.
There's never any doubt that Robbie and Gosling are front-and-center here, however, Gerwig makes sure we understand that the Barbie universe isn't the Barbie universe without all the Kens and Barbies who've come before and have yet to come. The end result is a deliriously joy-filled social satire that satisfies from beginning to end.
Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic