Valley of the Dolls

Barbie

Director: Greta Gerwig

Cast: Margot Robbie, Ryan Gosling, America Ferrera, Emma Mackey, Issa Rae, Kate McKinnon, Michael Cera, Will Ferrell, Helen Mirren, Rhea Pearlman, Simu Liu, Kingsley Ben-Adir

Running Time: 1 hour 54 minutes

Film Rating: 7.5 out of 10

Toys as a consumer product are self reflexively explored with wit and sarcasm by Ladybird and Little Women director Greta Gerwig in the highly anticipated fantasy film Barbie starring Margot Robbie and Ryan Gosling as the dolls Barbie and Ken, who combined have multiple blonde moments.

It all starts off beautifully in the valley of the dolls aka Barbieland where like Pleasantville everything is perfect until Ken tries to reach the end of the wave and hits a dead-end and when Barbie’s doll like features start diminishing quickly including her high heel step and thoughts of death start seeping into her consciousness.

On consultation with weird Barbie wonderfully portrayed by Kate McKinnon, Barbie ventures off Barbieland through a portal which connects her to Los Angeles specifically the headquarters of Mattel, the manufacturers of Barbie where she confronts corporate doublespeak and patriarchy masquerading as profit.

Once in Los Angeles, Barbie is lost and confused whereas Ken, on the other hand revels in the patriarchy and rushes back to Barbieland to plot a revolution with the other Ken dolls, notably starring a range of male actors from Kingsley Ben-Adir to Simu Liu. Ken even discovers a liking for trucks and horses while Barbie discovers a fearless corporate secretary Gloria superbly played by Ugly Betty star America Ferrara, who unlocks the secret of Barbie’s beautiful transformation.

Ryan Gosling is superb as Ken, carefully crafting a narrative arc for his character from naivety to tyranny and then back to nostalgia. Gosling deserves an Oscar nomination for his role as Ken, from the jiving dance numbers to the villainous revenge he plots against the Barbies played by numerous actresses including Emma Mackey (Eiffel, Emily, Death on the Nile) and Issa Rae.

Despite all the hype and publicity, Barbie is not a sweet children’s film for small little girls, but a scathing allegorical tale on the nature of capitalism and how the gender roles have been structured to suit profit over flexibility, often pushing women out of the workplace in favour of men. Writer and director Greta Gerwig does the full range of jibes against her male counterparts from toxic masculinity to man explaining and from suffrage to male preening, questioning specifically assigned gender roles. In this respect her casting of the hottest star in the world Ryan Gosling is spot on as Ken and his performance elevates Barbie from a vivacious almost perfect land to a treacherous battle of the sexes whereby both Barbie and Ken have to discover their own identities.

Barbie is a candy coloured condemnation of the social roles assigned to men and women and how little children are socialized into specific gender roles through toys manufactured by shady multi-million dollar corporations. While Margot Robbie looks like Barbie, it is really her supporting cast that does the heavy lifting particularly America Ferrera as a contemporary woman juggling a career and raising a difficult daughter.

Where Gerwig falters in Barbie is that a toy is a difficult subject matter to adapt into a big screen unlike a novel such as Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women. Her directorial faults include crass excess and some really silly scenes especially those with Will Ferrell.

Barbie is a fun enjoyable fantasy but it is a film that takes itself too seriously in parts and not seriously enough as a sustainable narrative. Fortunately Ryan Gosling is talented enough to make Barbie’s counterpart, vain and idiotic. However, Kenough is not sufficient to stop the Barbie force.

Barbie gets a film rating of 7.5 out of 10 and is elevated by excellent supporting performances and fabulous kaleidoscopic costumes by double Oscar winning costume designer Jacqueline Durran (Little Women, Anna Karenina).

See it for the costumes, the dance moves and the music particularly the retro disco scene at the Barbie house party.

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