Mladen and Del review ‘Barbie’

Image courtesy of Warner Bros.

“Barbie” Starring Margot Robbie, Ryan Gosling, America Ferrera, Ariana Greenblatt, and others. Directed by Greta Gerwig. 1 hour, 54 minutes. Rated PG-13. Theatrical release.

Mladen’s take

I imagine Del will gush pink and salmon and, maybe, sky blue about “Barbie.” So, let me give y’all the straight dope. “Barbie” gets an F. How bad is the film? Margot Robbie, portraying the principal Barbie, will be nominated for the Best Actress Oscar. Ryan Gosling as the main Ken will get the nom for Best Actor. The movie itself will be included as a contender for the Best Film Oscar. I suspect “Barbie” will also make Academy Award runs at best supporting actress, script writing, costumes, and production. The music is standard modern hip. It neither repulsed me nor had me singing along. 

Del always demands a lengthy, pedantic movie plot summary in our reviews that none of you internet-addled users will be interested reading. So, let me do you a favor. Here’s the plot in a handful of short sentences. This may prevent Del from going all philosophical on our asses. Barbie endures an existential crisis as Ken wonders about his manliness. All of this angst exists amid the movie’s quixotic landscape and the Real World. The two realms are opposites. In one, women dominate and man are objectified and, in the other, males rule and females are disenfranchised. There’s a happy ending, of course.

“Barbie” is a contrast to the toy films we’ve all watched. It’s the opposite of the absurd, overly kinetic, and CGI-drunk Transformer movies. And, it’s unlike the pure delight of the Lego films. “Barbie” targets grown ups. Even grown-ups like manly me. Pay attention to the film’s cultural and political satire. Its jab at the Supreme Court’s appalling Citizens United decision is precious. Would “Barbie” appeal to Fahrenheit 451 Ron, Florida’s governor; Jerkoff Jordan, the dick Congressman from Ohio; or Baby Gaetz, the U.S. House fascist automaton representing my district? Yes, but only because they could use it to condemn woke y ness. Yeah, equal rights and opportunities for women would be bad for society.

“Barbie” should have been rated R, but, as usual, the damned studio chickened out. If you’re using toys to convey adult emotions and urges, be smart. Take the next step. Go R. Go “Team America: World Police.” To illustrate Barbie’s and Ken’s “feelings,” solid cussing by our protagonists would have added to the movie’s inexplicable charm. Also, the film would have benefitted from a deft touch of well-timed, realistic violence, ideally gunfire and blood splatter, though I’d settle for hand-to-hand with knives instead of arrows tipped with suction cups. The Kens beach invasion dance scene would have been the perfect place to mimic the opening sequence of “Saving Private Ryan.” I mention that because “Barbie” riffs other well known movies such as “2001: A Space Odyssey” and “The Matrix.”

“Barbie” might not be the first non science fiction and non-war movie I buy on 4K disc. It’s that bad.

Del’s take

My exposure to Barbie is limited. My sister had a doll or two when she was a child, and from their presence I learned the following:

1. Under proper (boy) supervision a Barbie could undergo what SpaceX calls a “rapid unscheduled disassembly” with remarkable ease.

2. With repeated use Barbie’s hair developed split ends, which was instantly corrected by fire.

There was something unsettling about looking at a body-less Barbie head, its hair scorched into a butch cut, as if it had suddenly morphed into Sid Vicious Barbie, yet that vapid smile never wavered, as though it were staring into the plastic gullet of whatever god Mattel had created for it.

When I suggested to Mladen we review the most talked-about movie of the day, “Barbie,” I expected to hear the ululating cry of damned souls arising from all the way across town. Payback, Mladen, for inflicting “The Jane Austin Book Club” on me all those years ago.

Alas, that didn’t happen. He was surprisingly on board, which confirms my suspicions that as he ages, Mladen is becoming a mellow old coot. Soon he’ll be eating fish sticks and watching “Wheel of Fortune” with the rest of us.

Going into this movie I predicted a two-hour, candy-coated, diabetes-inducing advertisement for Mattel’s most famous product. Boy, was I wrong. “Barbie” is many things, but it most definitely is NOT what I expected.

For example, “Barbie” is the best-written movie I’ve seen since “Don’t Look Up” with spectacular dialogue that flies at you rapid-fire, as if SEAL Team 6 Barbie had just emptied the clip of her M4 right in your face.

“Barbie” is also hilarious, with jokes delivered not just at the expense of Barbie and her genitally impaired kinda boyfriend Ken, or the perfectly coiffed universe they inhabit, but the Mattel “mothership” itself, which surprises me. It’s not often you see a major corporation willing to laugh at itself.

And “Barbie” is super meta, with nonstop winks and nods to both events that take place in the world you and I inhabit, and events unique to the Barbie universe too.

But wait, there’s more. “Barbie” is surprisingly layered and complex. It not only acknowledges those aspects of the doll that have been criticized over the years, such as the impossible physical and beauty standards embodied in Barbie, but issues of women’s equality, glass ceilings and a claustrophobic male patriarchy that seeks to keep women in their place.

I felt sorry for the parents who brought their young daughters to see “Barbie” because to my mind it is not a movie children will appreciate. Part musical, part comedy, and part stinging commentary about current events and the role of women in our culture, with nods to “The Truman Show” and “The Matrix,” “Barbie” is a movie phenomenon. Everything about it is terrific – the writing, acting, and story.

I came into “Barbie” expecting a silly kiddie movie. I walked out impressed. It’s an exceptional achievement, and I predict it’ll be rewarded come Oscar season.

I give it an unqualified A.

Mladen Rudman is a former journalist and technical writer. Del Stone Jr. is a former journalist and writer.


2 responses to “Mladen and Del review ‘Barbie’”

  1. LYNDA M. HOOPER says:

    WOW! Never did I imagine that the original Barbie Dolls that my sister and I received for Christmas, 1959 (I think), would ever come to this! I was approximately 13 and my sister was approximately 9. We played with our Barbies for years, making them clothes, houses, pools, etc., and eventually acquiring the Ken Doll, to add to the fun. It was good, clean, little-girly fun. We both saved and passed our Barbies on to our daughters. How dare anybody turn that into something like we are seeing now in this movie! I was definitely expecting something better. Shame on them! Just had to add my 2 cents’ worth, as a lifetime Barbie fan.

  2. Charles Tabb says:

    Can’t wait to see it. I’ve heard mostly what Del says about it. Very layered and more adult than expected as far as the overall experience of seeing it goes.

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