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Barbie Review: The Year's Best Film Is an Ode to Womanhood

Barbie Review: The Year's Best Film Is an Ode to Womanhood


It's hard to imagine anyone but the most jaded viewer would be disappointed by Barbie.

The hype for Greta Gerwig’s Barbie, hitting theaters this week, has been beyond huge and almost impossible to live up to. Still, it’s hard to imagine anyone but the most jaded viewer would walk away disappointed.

Gerwig is a filmmaker who loves women and, even though it comes with a lot of baggage, loves being a woman. That was evident in her previous films Lady Bird and Little Women, and once again, is made abundantly clear in Barbie. It’s truly a movie for anyone who has ever loved being a woman or loved women.

The main plot of Barbie follows one Stereotypical Barbie (a transcendent Margot Robbie) who starts to experience glitches in Barbieland that include thoughts of death, morning breath, existential dread, and worst of all, flat feet. She’s sent to Weird Barbie (Kate McKinnon) who tells her she can stay blissfully in Barbieland or go to the real world and learn what it’s like to be a girl and a woman there.

As she and her Ken (a pitch-perfect Ryan Gosling) explore the real world with its patriarchy, sexism, aging, and problems, she meets a woman who works at Mattel (America Ferrera, the heart of the film) and realizes that maybe a world where everyone is a perfect Barbie or Ken isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

One of Barbie's most powerful messages comes in its views on womanhood. The film regularly reminds us that these Barbies are not women, they’re dolls. And Barbie is keenly aware of the effect she’s advertised as having on girls. So when our main Barbie gets to experience life as a woman in the real world for the first time, she learns a lot about the subject she thought she knew most about.

This new discovery of the width and depths of womanhood comes with both happy and sad moments, and ultimately, the movie is about knowing what womanhood entails and still choosing to be a woman in the world — and knowing that that is a beautiful thing.

This is a message that will deeply resonate with trans women, as Barbie’s first encounters in the real world with cat-calling, misogyny, sexual harassment, and a world ruled by men is something we all remember from our first times out in public. In the end, if Barbie is a woman, she’s a trans woman.

The movie perfectly balances humor and blockbuster drama. It has very moving messages about womanhood, self, and even life and death that will leave you teary, but it also has more than a few moments that will leave you cackling with delight.

The entire cast of Barbies and Kens is absolutely perfect, as are Michael Cera as Allan and Emerald Fennell as Midge. Issa Rae, Hari Nef, Alexandra Shipp, Kingsley Ben Adir, and Scott Evans as a series of Barbies and Kens provide some of the film’s funniest moments.

Gosling is perfectly cast and becomes the Platonic Ideal of Ken in Barbie, but the movie really belongs to its two female leads. Robbie is truly one of the greatest actors of her generation and certainly deserves her third Oscar nomination for stepping into the iconic doll's high-heeled shoes. And Ferrera, who plays the mother of a middle school girl who connects with Barbie, has many of the movie’s most moving scenes and will have you cheering.

The relationship between Barbie and Ferrera’s character is also delightful, with the two making a perfect pair. Viewers would be forgiven if they thought the movie was a romance between the two women, since the husband of Ferrera’s character isn't seen until the final act of the film and only gets about one minute of screen time. Ultimately, the film is a love story between the two women.

Every single Barbieland set and piece of clothing that the Barbies and Kens wear is immaculate, and even if the story didn’t hold up, Barbie would be one of the best visual spectacles of the year.

Barbie opens in theaters Friday, July 21.

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