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Review: 'Barbie'

When I saw the first trailer for Barbie, I just shook my head and said “Oh, no.”

My initial reaction was that this was a money-grab movie starring the only woman on the planet who could portray the most flawlessly beautiful doll ever created.

Over the years, it was rumored that Barbie was fashioned after a German sex doll, a rumor that seemed to have some validity when you considered her exaggerated physical proportions, long, slender legs, sexy blonde hair and sparkling smile. She was hot, and she sold like hotcakes, unlike any doll that had come before. Kids and parents stopped in their tracks, for a multitude of reasons.

I braced myself for what appeared to be the fluff movie of the summer lineup. But then I started reading and hearing early reviews and comments praising what director Greta Gerwig had done in this film which was boldly being released the same weekend as Christopher Nolan’s highly anticipated bioflick Oppenheimer.

Like the rest of the world, I knew I had to see them both. In my case, Oppenheimer was first and before I had a chance to screen Barbie, I saw that Barbie had clobbered Oppenheimer at the opening weekend box office ($155 million vs $80 million).

My appreciation of Barbie began in the opening sequence which was an insanely funny parody of the famous ape sequence from Stanley Kubrick’s sci-fi epic 2001: A Space Odyssey (which happens to be my favorite film of all time).

Greta Gerwig was wasting no time establishing herself as a serious filmmaker who knew both her film history and knew her craft. She’s an acclaimed director who had the courage to take on a project like Barbie and run with it, despite doubts and low expectations. The remainder of the film reflects her brilliance as a writer and director.

It’s an ambitious project. A common complaint among movie critics is that Gerwig attempted to pack too much into Barbie. It is indeed so tightly compressed that it’s hard to distinguish what it is trying to be—a clever comedy or scathing, serious social commentary. In the end, it’s a lot of both.

The trailers have established the plot line that distinguishes Barbie World versus the real world and the journey that Barbie is forced to take to rectify something that threatens the very existence of Barbie World.

It is a journey that involves a young mom and her teenage daughter and their radically different views of Barbie and Barbie’s significance in the real world. Furthermore, it is a journey that takes Barbie back to Mattel headquarters, a phallic-shaped skyscraper where the Board of Directors and CEO (played by Will Farrell) are all men.

What’s interesting is that Mattel financed Barbie, the movie. Some reviewers have said that the movie is a feature length movie for the toy company and its biggest star. While there is no doubt that the movie will fuel a resurgence of Barbie dolls, accessories, fashions and merchandise of all sorts, the movie is unafraid of landing some pretty square punches and proverbially biting the hand that is feeding it.

The managers at Mattel are apparently good sports with enough coolness to let Greta Gerwig do her thing, even when it’s at their expense. To be fair, Gerwig even takes shots at herself in the film, such as a moment when the narrator (Helen Mirren) questions the choice of casting Margot Robbie as a less-than-perfect Barbie. It’s funny.

Much of the movie is funny, working on all levels. It’s a fine-tuned script in the hands of a dream cast with a talented director at the helm. Margot Robbie is perfection as Barbie. Her performance goes way beyond her flawless beauty. She’s deserving of an Oscar nomination, as is Ryan Gosling, in the role of Ken.

Other nominations might include Gerwig for best screenplay (shared with Noah Baumbach) and best director. Art direction also deserves a nod. It’s a quality film, all around.

About the only real criticism is the feeling that Gerwig did, indeed try to cram too much into this 113-minute movie. Besides the world’s most famous doll, it’s also about feminism, sexism, capitalism, pop culture and politics, and it tries to weigh in on every one of those subjects.

For the most part, it manages to do that, including at least one show-stopping monologue that should receive a special award from the Writers Guild.

There is a point when Barbie seems to overshoot the mark leaning more toward commentary and away from the comedy that audiences are expecting. It’s a minor criticism. Overall, the movie is nothing short of brilliant, living up to all the marketing and hype.

Greta Gerwig has pushed the limits with Barbie, enthusiastically, ambitiously and aggressively taking it to limits that exceed expectations. She has transformed pink into power.

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