(director/writer: Greta Gerwig; screenwriter: Noah Baumbach; cinematographer: Rodrigo Prieto; editor: Nick Houy; music: Mark Ronson/Andrew Wyatt; cast: Margot Robbie (Barbie), Ryan Gosling (Ken), America Ferrera (Gloria), Kate McKinnon (Barbie), Issa Rae (Barbie), Dua Lipa (Barbie),  Rita Arya (Barbie), Hari Nef (Barbie), Alexandra Shipp (Barbie), Ana Cruz Kayne (Barbie), Emma Mackey (Barbie), Rhea Perlman (Ruth), Michael Cera (Allan), Simu Liu (Ken), Ncuti Gatwa (Ken), John Cena (Ken), Scott Evans (Ken), Kingsley Ben-Adir (Ken), Ariana Greenblatt (Sasha), Helen Mirren (Narrator-voice), Connor Swindells (Aaron Dinkins), Will Ferrell (Mattel CEO), Jamie Demetriou (Mattel Executive); Runtime: 114; MPAA Rating: PG-13; producers: David Heyman/Margot Robbie/Tom Ackerley/Robbie Brenner; Warner Bros. Pictures; 2023-USA/UK)

“Protective of the Barbie image and more expansive of it.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Greta Gerwig (“Little Women”/”Lady Bird”) is the director of this hip live-action social satire that comes with a smart painterly pink-colored feminist manifesto. Greta co-writes it with her romantic partner and frequent creative collaborator Noah Baumbach as a fantasy comedy saying Barbie dolls for the last fifty years are empowering vehicles for girls, as it eludes the criticism over the dolls. Ideas abound in spades in this busy expressive personal film, as it’s a good-natured fun film that’s very funny as well as both protective of the Barbie image and more expansive of it. In the end it pulls its punches in coming out against its limits without endorsing it.

It was produced by Mattel, Barbie’s corporate manufacturer, hoping the movie will be a commercial for its product.

Helen Mirren narrates a prologue featuring the “Dawning of Man” scene from “2001,” telling us that before Barbie the dolls that girls played with were babies and motherhood was their only hope. Thereby girls could only pretend to play at being mothers and not dream of careers. Barbie therefore was a step forward because it allowed girls to use their imagination when playing with Barbie and therefore could grow-up to be world leaders and not just mothers.

There are many different kinds of Barbies and Kens who live in Barbie Land, a perfect alternate utopian women’s world.

There are many diverse Barbies who are equal with the “main” Barbie, the Stereotypical Barbie,
excellently played by Margot Robbie.

The Barbies and the Kens, their superficial boyfriends, live happily in the fantasy world of Barbie Land, with the Barbies being the leaders.

The Barbies (notably Issa Rae, and Dua Lipa) run things in their world (and have earned such titles as the President, astronaut, supreme court judge & Nobel Laureate). Meanwhile Ken (Ryan Gosling), Barbie’s “main” boyfriend, and the other Kens (notably Simu Liu & John Cena), live on the beach…where their lives as beach bums have no meaning without the Barbies contacting them.

Our first day ends at a party with synchronized dancing, at Barbie’s Dream House. While dancing, Barbie suddenly asks, “does anyone ever think about death?”

The weird Barbie, a misfit of the doll, played by Kate McKinnon, suggests the main Barbie travel to the real world for answers.

Barbie and Ken make it to Santa Monica, where they meet a former Barbie owner and Mattel worker named Gloria (America Ferrera)
, with a smart teen daughter Sasha (Ariana Greenblatt) who gets converted to Barbie after first rejecting her.

Ken gloats that men run things in the real world and to Barbie’s dismay wants to have that also be the case in Barbie Land. While Barbie is shocked to witness rampant sexism and women kept in check by a repressive society run by men and vows to push back on that (think of the supreme court’s reversal of abortion rights).

Will Ferrell plays the Mattel CEO and chair of the all-male board. While in the film
Rhea Perlman plays Barbie’s creator Ruth Handler who named the doll after her daughter Barbara. In reality, according to my research, the Barbie creator was Jack Ryan, Mattel’s chief designer who named the doll after his wife. He previously worked for the Pentagon designing missiles and played a significant part in the postwar military-industrial complex.

In any case, this is an exhilarating and provocative film, that brings gravitas and wit to the Barbie world.