“Barbie” visits the Real World

Barbie (Margot Robbie, Ryan Gosling, Kate McKinnon, Michael Cera, Will Ferrell) – Hooray for Greta Gerwig! The director/writer/actor pulled off a nifty trick in turning Barbie into a funny, whimsical, farcical romp with a feminist message without getting overly preachy or totally saccharine. Mattel, the company founded by Harold Matson and Ruth & Elliot Handler, gave Gerwig the room and the budget to take its most beloved property, the Barbie doll, and turn it into the first of the films to be built around Mattel toys.

What Gerwig created is a blockbuster beyond anyone’s expectations. Starring perhaps Hollywood’s currently most bankable actress, Margot Robbie, with heartthrob and La La Land’s Ryan Gosling, Barbie is part fantasy, part musical, part history lesson, and part coming-of-age commentary on the male-dominated world.

Barbie isn’t a perfect film, but it manages to make the audience smile, wink, and cry in equal measures while presenting a world of pink that appeals to both kids who grew up with Barbie over multiple generations. In 1959, when Barbiewas introduced, girls played with baby dolls, not full-figured young women with their own dream house and soon, a full array of clothes and friends.

Robbie makes a perfect “Stereotypical” Barbie, looking perfectly smiley, waving, busty and innocent. But she has a nagging thought that strikes out of nowhere: what happens when you die? As you’ll see, it’s a show/movie stopper. Something is awry, and Barbie doesn’t know why. With the help of “Weird” Barbie (a perfectly cast Kate McKinnon), she realizes she must leave Barbieland and visit the Real World to find the person who is messing with her.

Ken (Gosling), who pines to be Barbie’s boyfriend, invites himself along. When they get to Real World in Los Angeles, Barbie feels rejected but Ken suddenly feels respected even in his rhinestone cowboy outfit. Eventually, Barbie finds Mattel, where she is welcomed by the all-male executive team led by its buffoonish CEO (played expertly by Will Ferrell). Like Barbie, Mattel wants everything to stay exactly the same. But, to play on an old phrase, “the Barbie is out of the Dream House.”

She escapes the board room, which leads to the third act, the pseudo-serious part of the film. It is here that the right-wing media goes bat-sh*t crazy as Barbie morphs into a more worldly woman. She meets Gloria (America Ferrera), the Mattel CEO’s assistant, whose own frustrations as woman and mother have led her to question her life. Gloria’s daughter, Sasha (Ariana Greenblatt), is rebellious and has even rejected her old Barbie, even as mom continues to love it.

Eventually, Barbie heads back to Barbieland, only to find it completely changed. It’s now Kendom, a patriarchy that Ken modeled after his version of the Real World. All the women, the Barbies, who previously ran Barbieland, are now objectified and serve the Kens.

You get the picture. The film then moves to a wrap-up that is quite satisfying, heartwarming, and thoughtful. Barbie is a phenomenon, a full-fledged hit and bridge to a future filled with movies based on Mattel toys. That is not a pleasant prospect. Barbie isn’t the first movie based on a toy or a doll in the way Superman was the genesis of super-hero films. But it is a new stake in the ground for live-action movies based on Mattel toys.Barbie is not just a kid’s movie even though every mother is taking their daughters to this film. There is a nostalgia element to Barbie, which carries a much deeper message than Ruth Handler ever envisioned when she named her doll invention after her daughter.

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