‘Joyous’ Barbie breaks the mould

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This ‘joyous’ comedy – starring Margot Robbie and Ryan Gosling – is sure to be nominated for many awards, writes Nicholas Barber.

The zany, joke-packed fish-out-of-water farce keeps a grin stuck on your face, almost as if you were a classic Barbie or Ken yourself. Gosling’s clowning is especially enjoyable. As in The Nice Guys, and the Saturday Night Live sketch about Avatar’s logo, he is energetically committed to making a fool of himself. Still, the scenario does seem familiar at first. Essentially, you’ve got the sentient playthings from Toy Story, the relentlessly upbeat figurines from The Lego Movie (Will Ferrell appears as a villainous businessman, just as he did in The Lego Movie) and you’ve got the magical innocent abroad from Enchanted and Elf (yes, Ferrell was in that, too).

What’s so pleasing about Barbie, though, is that Gerwig and Baumbach waste no time in racing through the scenes you might anticipate and on to scenes you wouldn’t. Their exuberantly eccentric fairy tale has some of the dark, angst-ridden surrealism of Charlie Kaufman (Mattel’s offices are reminiscent of Being John Malkovich) and the meticulous eeriness of Stanley Kubrick. It has a sequence from an epic rock opera, and a dream ballet from a Gene Kelly musical. It’s a subversive history of Mattel’s often questionable product development, and an unbridled satire of sexism and patriarchal oppression. Some younger viewers – ie, those who are still at prime Barbie-buying age – may be puzzled, but Gerwig, with her usual sincerity, ensures that it is always a joyous comedy.

In fact, she and Baumbach may have tried to cram in too much: most obviously, there are three or four endings too many. But it’s easy to forgive these excesses, because Barbie is one of the few recent Hollywood films to have more to them than is given away in the trailer, and one of the few that come across as complete, self-contained stories, rather than attempts to set up a long-running series of sequels. It may be a comedy about a mass-produced plastic doll, but Barbie breaks the mould.


Barbie is on general release from 21 July.

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