Greta Gerwig’s ‘bold, inventive’ Barbie breaks the mould

The fun, humorous fish-out-of-water parody puts a smile on your face, almost like you’re a classic Barbie or Ken. Gosling’s clowning is particularly impressive. In The Nice Guys and a Saturday Night Live sketch about Avatar’s logo, he’s energetic about making a fool of himself. However, the scene looks familiar at first. Essentially, you’ve got sentient toys from Toy Story, endlessly exciting figurines from The Lego Movie (Will Ferrell appears as a villainous businessman, just as he did in The Lego Movie) and you’ve got magical innocents abroad in Enchanted and Elf (yes, Ferrell in that).

What’s most enjoyable about Barbie is that Gerwig and Baumbach waste no time racing through scenes you expect and scenes you don’t. Their spirited whimsical fairy tale has the dark, angsty surrealism of Charlie Kaufman (Mattel’s offices are reminiscent of Being John Malkovich) and the subtle weirdness of Stanley Kubrick. It features a sequence from an epic rock opera and a dreamy ballet from the music of Gene Kelly. It’s a subversive history of Mattel’s often questionable product development, and a no-holds-barred satire of sexist and patriarchal oppression. Some younger viewers — that is, those still of prime Barbie-buying age — might be confused, but Gerwig, with her usual candor, makes sure it’s always a happy joke.

In fact, she and Bombay may have tried to cram too much in: quite clearly, three or four results are too many. But it’s easy to forgive these excesses, because Barbie is one of the few recent Hollywood films that has more to offer than is given away in the trailer, and one of the few that comes off as complete, self-contained stories rather than attempts to set up lengthy sequels. It may be a joke about a mass-produced plastic doll, but Barbie breaks the mold.

★★★★★

Barbie is in general release from July 21.

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