Barbie

Barbie ★★★

Spirited, inherently hopeless effort to reconcile all the competing imperatives of making a live-action Barbie movie in the year 2023. It's knowing prefab camp that both revels in and loudly interrogates the retro appeal of Barbie. It's representationally inclusive while gently acknowledging that Mattel's forays into diversifying Barbie were, of course, financially motivated. It bites the hand that feeds (plays?) by pointing out the gender disparity within a company with a predominately female consumer base, while also covering for that company by making it look hip and self-aware enough to cop to its disparities. It nods to everything bad that's ever been said or written about Barbie as an iconic product even as it essentially gives everyone permission to forget all that and have fun. (Apropos the Kubrick reference of the opening scene, its subtitle could be How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bombshell.) It's practically the textbook definition of corporate feminism, but it knows that too, of course, and is earnest in using the platform of a big-budget toy commercial to speak to the audience about the patriarchy; there's a big speech that recalls the one Laura Dern delivers in Marriage Story, which makes me wonder if Baumbach counterintuitively wrote this one or if Gerwig helped him write that one. Even its lionization of the woman behind Barbie comes with an asterisk. The whole thing is animated by neurosis more than joy, which is what I found most interesting about it: Is there a little of Gerwig's offscreen wrestling with the assignment in Barbie's onscreen existential crisis? Wish it was a little funnier.

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