Review: Barbie


Everybody knows Barbie. Even if you’ve never played with a Barbie doll, you know who Barbie is just through cultural osmosis. She’s one of the defining icons of femininity and if you were to talk with any girl who grew up since her creation in 1959, they probably have some relation to Barbie or played with a  Barbie doll at some point in their life. Barbie is the face of a media empire, obviously in the form of merchandise, but also through video games, tv shows, and movies.

There have been countless Barbie animated movies released throughout the years and I’m not a big enough masochist to watch them and learn more about Barbie lore, which I’m told is something that exists. All I know about Barbie is that there are tons of different Barbie dolls for a ton of different jobs, and she has a boyfriend named Ken. That’s it. That’s all I know. And yet, despite my complete lack of knowledge regarding Barbie, I was excited for the live-action rendition of Barbie, simply titled… uh… Barbie. 

Part of that may be because of the bright and colorful aesthetic that caused a worldwide paint shortage. Part of it may be because Greta Gerwig directed and co-wrote the film and while I’ve never had a strong connection to her work, I can acknowledge that she’s a great filmmaker. Part of it may be the absurdly aggressive marketing campaign that made the movie inescapable for the past month. Part of it may just be the memes and the hype generated around the double feature event of the year, Barbenheimer. But now that I’ve seen the movie and I can judge it on its own merits, this is not only Greta Gerwig’s best film, but one of the best films of the year.

Barbie | Main Trailer

Director: Greta Gerwig

Release Date: July 21, 2023 (Theatrical)
Rating: PG-13

In the wonderful world of Barbieland, life is perfect for the myriad of Barbies and Kens that live there. One Barbie, played by Margot Robbie, begins to have not-so-perfect things happen to her, ranging from her perfect feet fully touching the ground, to thoughts about death and cellulite. After consulting a Barbie that everyone calls Weird Barbie (Kate McKinnon), she learns that in order for her to go back to being perfect, she needs to journey to the real world and make a young girl happy, thereby making Barbie happy again. Ken (Ryan Gosling) tags along, but once the two of them reach the real world, they learn that it’s not everything they thought it would be and the ideas they encounter begin to change them and how they expect the world to operate.

There’s a lot to like in this movie, but what you’re probably going to be thinking about the most is the film’s humor. Barbie is a very funny movie and I genuinely was laughing for most of its runtime. The jokes range from wacky visual gags to fourth wall breaks, but the best jokes are blink and you’ll miss them moments that had me in stitches. I never thought that I would see a Monty Python reference in 2023, but I’m so glad that Gerwig still manages to homage the classics. But you’ll be laughing from the moment the film begins and keep laughing all the way up to the end.

There’s also a palpable sense of sincerity that the movie just exudes. Everyone in the film fully commits to what they’re doing, but they’re never tongue-in-cheek about it. The cast plays their roles well and is just having fun, no one more than Ryan Gosling. The movie may have Barbie in the title, but this is Ryan Gosling’s movie. He could genuinely be nominated for and win Best Supporting Actor he’s that good. He goes way above and beyond what I think anyone expected of him and turns what would normally be a very cartoonish and basic character into a person with a lot of depth and complexity that will take you by surprise, while still being completely hilarious with his self-conscious and pitiable self.

Review: Barbie

Copyright: Warner Bros

But that’s something that’s genuinely surprising about Barbie; there’s a lot of depth inside the movie. At first, you think that the movie is going to be a fairly standard fish-out-water journey, much in the same vein as comedies like Elf. There’s a person who comes from an extravagant fantasy land going into the real world and learning what reality is like and learning some kind of lesson about it. And while that is definitely true at times, Barbie goes way beyond that.

Barbie is blunt with a capital B. There’s virtually no subtlety at times and what would normally be subtext is just plain text. There were points where I wasn’t as big of a fan of that approach since it didn’t really offer much for the audience to think about, but then the film did something unexpected and used that as a springboard for even deeper commentary on gender norms and the expectation of gender within society. Then it goes even deeper into ideas relatable to self-actualization and the nature of ideas and the role of creators in their creations.

It’s one thing for Barbie to learn that Barbie dolls didn’t fix gender discrimination, but then using that to explore how women are perceived by society and using to delve even deeper into what it means for a person to feel valuable and enriched is remarkable. There’s a lot to unpack with Barbie to the point where you can examine it and study so much about what it does and how it does it.

But even if you don’t fully grasp the meaning and message of Barbie, the movie is stunning to watch. The sets used to make this film are gorgeous and at times borders a surrealist experience. The amount of pink on screen is unreal, but then featuring cartoonish violence and dance battles in these sets makes me think that this film could work as a Broadway show. The spectacle is great and this is the kind of summer blockbuster that I would say is fun for the whole family. Sure it’s PG-13, but outside of the odd curse here or there and acknowledging how Barbie and Ken have no genitals, it’s cartoonish and fun in a way that feels like a throwback to comedies and family films from decades ago.

Review: Barbie

Copyright: Warner Bros.

It’s not a perfect movie though, but its flaws are easy to overlook. The first half of the film can be predictable, with the film going through some of the beats you would expect of it. There’s a twist involving the purpose of Barbie’s journey that is beyond easy to predict, though younger viewers would probably still be surprised by it even though the revelation doesn’t really amount to much. Then there’s the fact that it takes a while for the movie to really get going into the real fascinating bits. That isn’t to say that the first half of the film isn’t good, the movie does take its time in establishing and setting up its major ideas and themes. When it gets good, it gets REALLY good.

But I think at the end of the day I’m going to remember the little things about this movie. I love Michael Cera’s performance in the movie despite how little he’s in it. I think that Lizzo’s contribution to the soundtrack is hilarious and perfect. There’s a joke poking fun at a subsection of popular culture that is perfect, especially given the slavish devotion that some people to this day devote an unhealthy amount of their time to. And of course, everyone will remember Midge even if Mattel doesn’t want you to. It just keeps building on itself with these small little entertaining bits that made me find something to like about nearly every scene in the movie.

As of this writing, I have not seen Oppenheimer, the movie that is perceived to be in competition with Barbie. While I think that both films are going to be good and it’s stupid to try and argue about which movie is better given their vastly different tones and target audiences, Oppenheimer has a tough act to follow. Barbie is bright, meaningful, and a joy to watch with so many things to like about it. It’s a comedy that loves the subject it’s based on and never comes across as a parody. It’s lovingly crafted and will strike right at the core of anyone who ever played with a Barbie doll growing up. There’s love in Barbie and passion. I’ll gladly watch this movie again and again and find something new to love about it each time. It may take a little bit to get to the really good stuff, but there’s very little to dislike about Barbie and everything that it accomplishes.




Barbie has a charm that is absolutely infectious thanks to its sets, humor, cast, and themes. Once it gets going, it's hard to not call this a great film perfect for the summer.

Jesse Lab
The strange one. The one born and raised in New Jersey. The one who raves about anime. The one who will go to bat for DC Comics, animation, and every kind of dog. The one who is more than a tad bit odd. The Features Editor.