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Barbie Movie Review: It’s a feminist masterpiece

On Monday night, as hundreds of journalists, influencers and Barbie mega fans (myself included, my second viewing in a week) queued around the block in Leicester Square, festooned in fuchsia pink to watch an advanced screening of Barbie, there was a decidedly un-Ken looking man standing outside the Cineworld with a megaphone ranting: “Why do you like Barbie?” “What does she represent?”

I’m pretty sure he hadn’t been planted by Warner Bros as part of their vast and elaborate global marketing campaign, but in fact was just one of those grungy looking angry guys who roam around the West End, megaphone in hand, berating everything from Christianity to Covid: tonight it was Barbie’s turn.

h, Barbie. Yet another beacon of divisiveness in these highly divisive, amplified, angry culture-war-times we’re currently all living through. And how brilliantly the exceptional director and writer, Greta Gerwig has capitalised on this.

From the word go, this aggressively hyped behemoth of a movie has used Barbie’s divisiveness as the main asset of the film. The tag line in the trailer is: “If you love Barbie, this movie is for you. If you hate Barbie, this movie is for you.” And it’s true. And full transparency here, I have always fallen firmly into the ‘I love Barbie’ camp. I also love pink, like unashamedly, wholeheartedly, really love pink. So please be aware that this review may be biased…

Spoiler alerts incoming, Barbie is both celebrated and chastised in the film and both points are explored with powerful consequences and messaging about what it means to be a woman in 2023.

In Barbieland, where narrator Helen Mirren wryly informs us “all problems of feminism and equality can be solved” the world’s most famous doll is portrayed as a feminist icon who can make young girls in the real world believe that they can achieve whatever they want in life on their own terms: Astronaut, President, Lawyer, Doctor or Nobel prize winner - all are within easy reach. In the real world however - where Barbie is forced to visit while in the grips of an existential crisis triggered by thoughts of death, flat feet and cellulite - it doesn’t take long before Barbie is massively admonished, by a tween girl no less.

Our heroine is reduced to tears, after being accused of ‘setting back feminism’ fifty years, making women feel bad about themselves with her unrealistic body standards and criticised for her role in rampant, capitalist, consumerism. She - and Ken - are also introduced to the notion of the patriarchy - more tears from our heroine! Ken, a man whose entire existence up to this point as ‘Just Ken’ has been to live permanently in Barbie's shadow, in awe of her and having no identity beyond ‘Beach’ is, meanwhile, enthralled by the notion that ‘men rule the world’. And it has disastrous consequences.

Barbie the movie exceeded all my expectations. Gender stereotypes are debunked and flung on their heads. Female sexuality is weaponised with hilarious results and the patriarchy is lampooned and attacked. Without sounding too breathless and OTT, the cinematic experience is pretty overwhelming (both on the kaleidoscopic visuals and the plot front) and at times I did feel that the film itself was somewhat overwhelmed by its own ideas and inherently meta messaging; you can occasionally feel a little lost on the specifics of the points trying to be made about the complexities of gender relations and roles, equality and toxic masculinity. The plot is a bit confusing, but hey, so is being a woman, right? It's not really a kids' film, although with a 12A rating, those over that age will undoubtedly enjoy it. It’s also a good 15 minutes and a car chase too long.

No matter though, because overall it is a triumph. It debunks everything you think it is going to be and, in my humble opinion, it is a feminist masterpiece.

So, Mr Leicester Square Megaphone, here are my nine reasons why I bloody LOVE Barbie:

Oh. My. God, it’s beautiful. And I’m not talking about the exquisite, yet problematic blonde haired, blue-eyed beauty of Margot Robbie’s ‘Stereotypical Barbie’ - which gets its own little fourth-wall-breaking joke from narrator Helen Mirren - but the attention to detail is MIND-BLOWING. The Dream Houses! The kitchen! The bedspread! The pool! The letter boxes! The cars! The costumes! The feet! The costumes again! And oh dear lord, the customised Barbie Chanel wardrobe…

2. Diversity and inclusion is paramount. Barbie’s real life journey with inclusivity has been well documented, with Mattel introducing the first Black doll in the Barbie range, named Christie in 1968. And 43 years ago, the first Black and Hispanic Barbies were added to the collection. It wasn’t until 2015 that new body shapes were introduced with curvy, tall and petite Barbies. In Greta Gerwig’s Barbieland the whole spectrum of race, body diversity and ability is represented by a mega-wattage starry cast and it doesn’t feel tick-boxy or forced. It’s beautiful.

3. It’s self-aware, irreverent, high camp and doesn’t take itself too seriously. It masterfully eschews being too worthy or earnest.


5. Ryan Gosling will get an Oscar nomination.

6. It references a whole litany of brilliant works from the canon of cinema: from The Wizard of Oz to Grease to Forrest Gump and Zoolander.

7. The soundtrack, from Dua Lipa, Lizzo, Nicki Minaj, HAIM, Sam Smith, Pink Pantheress is stuffed full of earwormy bangers.

8. Its portrayal of mother daughter relationships will bring a lump to your throat, especially when America Ferrera delivers a powerful monologue about the struggles to be a woman.

9. Finally, due to all the above, and as our Editor-in-chief, Deborah Joseph, declared to me immediately after Monday's screening: “It’s GLAMOUR magazine in a movie.” And it really is.

Gushing rave review now over. But I do implore you to get thee to a cinema pronto and see for yourselves as of this Friday.

Barbie is in cinemas nationwide from July 21st.

This article was originally published on Glamour UK.

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