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Humor and heart make Barbie the surprise of the summer 23 movie season

Three-time Oscar Nominee Greta Gerwig brings an iconic doll to life for her fourth directorial effort in Barbie from Warner Bros. Pictures. Gerwig pens the screenplay for the film with her partner and fellow filmmaker Noah Baumbach. After over a decade of false starts, multiple writer and director changes, and the casting of Amy Schumer and later Anne Hathaway as the lead, fellow Academy Award Nominee Margot Robbie steps into the titular role.

Barbie (Robbie) spends her days in the utopian Barbie Land, hanging out and enjoying life's beauty. Her friends include different variations of herself, including President Barbie (Issa Rae), Writer Barbie (Alexandria Shipp), and Mermaid Barbie. Naturally, Barbie has a main squeeze in the form of Ken (Ryan Gosling).

Ken also has different variations of himself in their world, but instead of using adjectives to separate themselves, they have numbers that include Ken #1 (Kinglsey Ben-Adir) and Ken #2 (Sim Liu). A series of events leads Barbie to cross paths with Weird Barbie (played by Kate McKinnon), resulting in a chain reaction causing a crisis of conscience for Barbie and Ken for not being perfect dolls.

The duo then decides on a journey of self-discovery together to the real world, where they cross paths with Mattel employees Gloria (America Ferrera) and the company CEO (Will Ferrell). Barbie and Ken soon learn that what's on the inside counts even if you're a doll.

Most viewers might wonder how a filmmaker can turn a doll's story into a feature film. Gerwig could have simplified the concept and made it a colorful and humorous movie. However, that's not Gerwig's style, and it's clear from watching the movie that she had full creative control. Fans of classic musicals will recognize influences from films like The Red Shoes and Umbrellas of Cherbourg. In contrast, 90s teens who may now have daughters might see motifs from the 1994 bestseller Reviving Ophelia.

The movie unquestionably has the campy and frivolous amusement vibe that the trailers suggest, particularly in the first act. Margot Robbie and the cast thoroughly enjoy the massive, bizarre jumps Gerwig takes with the absurdity. Every one of the "Barbies" has a moment to shine, and the "Kens," particularly Ryan Gosling and Sim Liu, evoke loveable dunce vibes with their bromances.

Barbie's arrival in the real world gives Robie a chance to shine. Gerwig's screenplay thoughtfully explores critical topics, including gender roles, societal perceptions, the symbolic importance of Barbie, and generational disparities. A monologue given by America Ferrera in the film's third act is easily one of the most impactful moments of the summer movie season.

Ken's character arc in the film brilliantly addresses the issue of male toxicity with a perfect blend of humor and honesty. Gosling's performance was impressive enough to convince the studio to consider a spin-off for the character. Ken's development is not only a tribute to his fictional relationship with Barbie, which ended in 2004 and rekindled in 2011 but also ties into lessons that fathers teach their sons regarding the opposite sex.

Before taking younger kids to see this movie, I highly recommend that moms watch it first on a girl's night out. Barbie is rated PG-13 and doesn't contain anything overly raunchy or offensive. However, the film's layers and honest social commentary may go over the heads of younger viewers.

Featuring an award-worthy screenplay, engaging pace, and intoxicating performances from Robie and Gosling, Barbie is one of 2023's best surprises.

Final Grade: A

Barbie begins previews tonight before opening in theaters tomorrow.


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