Marie-Elena Schembri Writer, Photographer & Visual Artist Marie-Elena Schembri Writer, Photographer & Visual Artist

Review: ‘Barbie’

Review: ‘Barbie’ movie charms audiences while smashing box-office records

Marie-Elena Schembri, Calaveras Enterprise, August 3, 2023

“You’re so beautiful,” a blue-eyed, blonde-haired girl dressed in bubblegum pink says to the older woman sitting on the other end of the bus stop bench, a tear streaking down her perfectly made-up face.

“I know it,” the older woman says with a smile, and the two women share a joyful laugh.

It’s a brief, 25-second scene that’s at the heart of the movie that is charming audiences everywhere this summer.

“Barbie,” released July 21, amassed almost $500 million in global ticket sales during its first week in theaters, breaking box office records and shocking an industry that has struggled to regain its former pre-pandemic glory.

Homegrown director Greta Gerwig (“Lady Bird,” “Little Women”) was born in nearby Sacramento, but that isn’t the only reason that a week after its release, nearly every seat was full for evening showings of the film at Angels Theatre last weekend.

The film appeals to a wide range of audiences — this Barbie isn’t just for little girls. In fact, with some sexual references and a heavy dose of throwbacks, arguably the best parts of the movie are geared toward adults who grew up with the classic toy but can appreciate some adult humor and the irony of a perfect plastic doll on a journey of self-discovery.

“People seem to be, generally speaking, enjoying ‘Barbie’ a lot,” said the attendant taking tickets just before the 6:20 p.m. showing at Angels Theatre on Friday, July 28. Opening week, he said, “We were just completely selling out.”

So why has “Barbie,” a movie about a doll, struck a chord with audiences?

“Barbie” could be called an inspirational film as it’s two lead characters, Barbie (played by Margot Robbie) and Ken (played by Ryan Gosling), face existential crises and embark on parallel searches to find, and fix, themselves — but it might more aptly be considered a satirical social commentary on stereotypical gender roles, sexism, and the ills of capitalism. At the very least, it’s a high-brow comedy that looks at how a cherished brand and a hunk of plastic could possibly have made a lasting impact — good or bad — on women everywhere for the better half of a century.

With a cast of characters as diverse as Barbie’s outfits, there is no shortage of representation. Almost every iteration of the famous doll shows up in the film, from President Barbie (played by Issa Rae) to Mermaid Barbie (Dua Lipa) to the classic version — or “Stereotypical Barbie” — as played by Robbie.

There’s also the now internet-famous speech that actress America Ferrera, playing Mattel employee Gloria, delivers to a self-deprecating Barbie about the insurmountable expectations and pressure to be perfect that society places on women.

“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,” she tells a teary-eyed Barbie, before launching into the epic monologue.

Heavy hitting monologues and a few other tear-jerking moments aside, “Barbie” is also just really fun.

The movie is a joyride of bright colors, pretty faces, catchy songs and choreographed dance. There are, of course, moments of duress for Barbie, who suddenly finds herself having very un-Barbie thoughts and realizes with the help of “Weird Barbie” that a portal has been opened between the real world and Barbieland and she must find the sad little girl whose “thoughts and feelings and humanness are interfering with (Barbie’s) dollness.”

Barbie sets out to find and help the girl who is playing with her in the real world, and the sadly co-dependent Ken tags along.

In the real world, both dolls make startling realizations, and their experience could not be more different. Ken finds a world where men are on top, respected, important, and ride horses — not just hang out on the beach hoping Barbie will glance their way.

Barbie finds a world opposite her beloved Barbieland, and is devastated to learn that Barbie’s legacy isn’t as positive as she believed. Expecting to find a world full of “grateful, powerful women who owe their wonderful lives to Barbie,” she instead meets an angry young teen who tells her: “You represent everything wrong with our culture — sexualized capitalism, unrealistic physical ideals. … You destroyed girls’ innate sense of worth and you are killing the planet with your glorification of rampant consumerism.”

Things get more complicated for Barbie when Ken returns to Barbieland with his new understanding of the world, and the big wigs at Mattel attempt to put the malfunctioning Barbie in a box to control her in a not-so-sly metaphor.

The Barbies, however, win back control of Barbieland from the Kens, whom the narrator cheekily says will one day “have as much power and influence in Barbieland as women have in the real world.”

“Stereotypical Barbie,” however, realizes she can’t go back to being her pretty, plastic, emotionless self and decides to become human, taking on the name of the little girl she was named after, Barbie creator Ruth Handler’s daughter, Barbara.

Her first stop as a real woman? To see her gynecologist.

With plenty of laughable and relatable moments, interesting characters played by talented actors, adorable outfits and a star-studded soundtrack with instant hits from popular artists Lizzo, Dua Lipa, Nicki Minaj, Tame Impala, Haim, and Billie Eilish, it’s no wonder this film is a blockbuster.