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Movies & TV

20th Jul 2023

REVIEW: Barbie is basically The Matrix in pink glitter instead of black nail varnish

Rory Cashin

Barbie

Barbie finally arrives in cinemas this week!

A protagonist caught within a hidden world. An active decision required to either stay in the hidden world or take the dangerous journey to the “real world”. A big smack of reality when they arrive in that real world, realising things are not what they seem. Being pursued by unemotional men in power suits. A chase sequence through office cubicles on the high floor of a skyscraper. An old lady delivering sage advice on existential topics while chilling out in a kitchen. An old man representing the human face of the movie’s primary antagonist.

Yes, we are describing the plot of The Matrix, but also, yes, we are describing the plot of Barbie. And while The Matrix itself clearly borrowed from some older movies itself – The Wizard Of Oz and Alice In Wonderland immediately spring to mind – Barbie definitely feels like it has transplanted some major plot beats from the techno-thriller, but replaced by the black nail varnish with pink glitter.

Margot Robbie is incredible as the Barbie who begins to have some dark thoughts about her perfect existence in Barbie World, so having discovered that her issues have been created by the human playing with her in the real world, she heads off to get answers, with Ken (Ryan Gosling) in tow.

In Barbie World, they’re told that the Barbie doll has helped to destroy things like sexism and inequality in the real world, so when they arrive here, both of these dolls are in for a bit of a rude awakening, realising how differently humans treat women who look like Barbie and men who look like Ken.

Barbie is filled with surprises, although not all of them are good

One of the most surprising things about Barbie is how massively emotional it is. Yes, there are amazing costumes and set productions and multiple musical numbers (that soundtrack is fire!), but this is also the most we’ve ever seen Margot Robbie cry in a role.

Director Greta Gerwig (Lady Bird, Little Woman) brings in some of the barbed humour she imbued in her scripts for Frances Ha and Mistress America, and her script here, co-written with Noah Boambach (Marriage Story, The Squid and the Whale), is arguably much darker than cinema-goers might be anticipating.

It is also filled with huge zingers against both Mattel (the makers of Barbie) and Warner Bros. (the makers of this movie), and with a single monologue on by a Mattel executive assistant (America Ferrera) entirely focused on the idea of modern feminism, it might be both the most important and most depressing movie for young girls to see this decade.

So it is bright and smart and emotional and goes places you might not expect, but on the other hand, it is never quite as funny as it thinks it is, and for all of its extremely valid points about modern women, it seems to run out of steam just as its getting to something close to a revelation.

But maybe, most importantly, it really, REALLY doesn’t just feel like a two hour toy commercial. And pulling that off, with this intellectual property, is something close to a miracle.

Barbie arrives in cinemas on Friday, 23 July.

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