“Since the beginning of time, since the first little girl ever existed, there have been dolls. But the dolls were always and forever baby dolls, until …”
Let me preface this by saying that I am in no way the target audience for this film. That said, this film is in no way for the target audience that you may imagine it is for. Initially, I suspected the film was intended for the age bracket that actually plays with Barbies. However, after watching, I’d have to argue that the themes of the film are geared more towards the young adult / early adulthood crowd. Bearing all that in mind, it should go without saying that Barbie was a film that I endured rather than enjoyed until one key moment which I will describe later. To my mind the film was an amalgamation of films that came before it. And while I appreciate the film’s diversity in encompassing a wide range of actors to represent variations of the Barbie and Ken characters, at times it felt as though the film’s agenda was literally punching me in the face.
Starting out, it was very difficult to embrace the film, as the film thrust me through a montage of a stereotypical day in Barbieland, which just felt, for lack of a better word, plastic. I imagine this was intentional to draw focus to the superficialness of the world-building at the beginning. This was the portion of the film that I dreaded the most. It was a rough opening that made me question my resolve for being able to endure the film. Things improved as Margo Robbie’s Barbie, hence forth known as Margo-Barbie, which I prefer to call her rather than the film’s reference of “Stereotypical Barbie,” experiences an existential crisis, which manifests itself physically in the form of bad breath, cellulite, and flat feet. Seeking advice, Margo-Barbie discovers that she must find the child playing with her in the real world to cure her afflictions.
Up until this point, the film just has a Mean Girls vibe. The characters are very superficial and judgmental. It is only once we get out of Barbieland and into the real world that the film starts to hold any measure of my interest. This is synonymous with the introduction of Ariana Greenblatt as Sasha. She is without a shadow of a doubt my favorite character, as she is the one to tell it like it is and really call out encouraging unrealistic beauty standards, which is a central theme of the film. Granted during this period the film had reminiscences of The Truman Show or Stranger than Fiction, particularly the confrontation of the main character and another figure that is intentionally or inadvertently governing their life. For me, examining the film through her lens is when the film is at its best. Outside this, the film’s messaging tends to be heavy-handed and loses the plot. And while I don’t dispute the importance of the message that is being conveyed in this movie, I prefer subtlety.
The film also appears to contradict itself a bit. Take when the power dynamic shifts in Barbieland. Prior to Margo-Barbie’s existential crisis, the Barbies hold prestigious jobs such as doctor, lawyer, and politician, while the Kens spend their days playing at the beach. Then there is a power shift, which occurs rapidly and with short explanation. However, if the goal is equality, the contradiction comes in the manner in which the Barbies attempted to restore the balance, which in theory only ensures that the Barbies rule once again. Again, this seems contradictory to the overall intent. The film does attempt to right the ship by having both sides address the systemic oppression that was subject upon them and resolve for a better balance.
“It is literally impossible to be a woman. You are so beautiful and so smart, and it kills me that you don’t think you’re good enough. Like, we have to always be extraordinary, but somehow we’re always doing it wrong. You have to be thin, but not too thin. And you can never say you want to be thin. You have to say you want to be healthy, but also you have to be thin. You have to have money, but you can’t ask for money, because that’s crass. You have to be a boss, but you can’t be mean. You have to lead, but you can’t squash other people’s ideas. You’re supposed to love being a mother but don’t talk about your kids all the damn time. You have to be a career woman, but also always be looking out for other people. You have to answer for men’s bad behavior, which is insane, but if you point that out, you’re accused of complaining. You’re supposed to stay pretty for men, but not so pretty that you tempt them too much or that you threaten other women, because you’re supposed to be a part of the sisterhood. But always stand out and always be grateful. But never forget that the system is rigged. So find a way to acknowledge that, but also always be grateful. You have to never get old, never be rude, never show off, never be selfish, never fall down, never fail, never show fear, never get out of line. It’s too hard! It’s too contradictory, and nobody gives you a medal or says thank you! And it turns out in fact that not only are you doing everything wrong, but also everything is your fault. I’m just so tired of watching myself and every single other woman tie herself into knots so that people will like us. And if all of that is also true for a doll just representing women, then I don’t even know.”
This monolog is the key takeaway of the film. This speech is the driving point for the film, the important message that makes everything else I endured worthwhile. As a father of a daughter, if there was any part of this film that I would want my daughter to see, it is this portion. I do my best to be open-minded, but I am also not naïve about my own bias and opinions. This speech was eye-opening and put the entire film into perspective.
I can’t conclude this review without mentioning the talent roster of this film. Margot Robbie continues to break down walls, showing her range when it comes to playing a wide array of different characters. And while I prefer her renditions as Harley Quinn to this, I struggle to think of anyone else who could have taken on this role. This role seemed tailor-made for Ryan Gosling years ago, but I do credit him for going a step forward and drawing on his La La Land musical experience for “I’m Just Ken.” Robbie and Gosling play off one another well enough, though the confines of their relationship in this film are bit constricting. I look forward to seeing them work together without such limitations when the two partner for the untitled Ocean’s prequel. And whoever had the genius idea for Helen Mirren as the narrator has my utmost respect.
Barbie is presented in its original aspect ratio of 2.00:1. The ultra-high-definition image presentation is arrived at with an HEVC codec at an average of 65 mbps. If you like the color pink, you’re going to be over the moon with this ultra-high-definition image presentation. When you add the color boost of HDR you’re going to see some of the brightest and most vivid shades of pink you ever saw. That’s not all that pops, of course. Colors here are intended to be ultra-bright, and they really are. These colors are truly impressive. There’s not really much accent on black levels and shadow definition, because this world of Barbie has very little black or white in its color collection. You get mostly primary colors outside of the pink, and they literally explode on the screen. The world itself is also highly stylized, and it certainly comes through with extraordinary detail. There isn’t much for textures here, and that’s not really a surprise. There’s been a huge effort here to create an almost plastic sheen to everything in Barbieland. Costumes provide some texture, but even those are stylized. The real world is certainly toned down, but I wouldn’t consider it super-realistic. You get a great level of detail here. I’m sure fans will be looking for and finding Easter eggs for many viewings to come.
The Dolby Atmos audio presentation defaults to 7.1. The surround elements are not terribly aggressive, but they do provide some nice immersive elements. The mix does a nice job of sound placement so that it’s easy to put yourself there in the action. It all has a heightened sense of placement. There are several musical numbers, and they come through nicely. I’m not a huge disco fan, but clarity won’t be an issue. The dialog cuts through just fine and shares the trend of careful placement in the room. There’s not a lot of action coming from your sub. There’s a little pop that adds depth particularly to the musical numbers, but don’t expect anything to move your room in this audio experience.
There is only the UHD disc here, and it comes with several brief features in HD.
It’s A Weird World: (5:03) This feature offers a closer look at Kate McKinnon character of “Weird Barbie”.
All-Star Barbie Party: (4:57) Here we get introduced to the cast including some nice cameo appearances.
Musical Make-Believe: (9:11) Here we focus on the choreography of the major dance scenes in the film. A lot of behind-the-scenes footage of the rehearsal and construction of these scenes.
Becoming Barbie: (6:29) The features wouldn’t be complete without a close behind-the-scenes look at creating the character. We get to see early conceptual designs for the main character and all of those aspects that evolved over a year to what we see on screen. There is a focus on elements like hair, makeup, costumes, and some shooting tests.
Welcome To Barbie Land: (12:01) This is the standard behind-the-scenes feature. Cast and crew provide insights as we get behind the camera for set tours and more production design.
Playing Dress-Up – An Extended Look At The Costumes Of Barbie: (7:27) The title pretty much says it all.
Acknowledging my bias and the fact that I am not the target audience for the film, I categorize this as a one-and-done for me. As I said, at times it felt more like a something I was enduring rather than enjoying, and there were some were some things that felt counterproductive to its message. With all that said, I acknowledge its cultural significance and the message that it conveyed, which without question was an important one.
Parts of this review were written by Gino Sassani