Directed by Greta Gerwig
MTRCB Rating: PG

THE FEMALE coming-of-age is a complex journey, mapped out by converging and diverging lines that girls must learn to toe carefully to achieve a fabulous yet respectable image of womanhood.

This movie is an ode to that journey.

It follows Barbie (Margot Robbie) and Ken (Ryan Gosling) having the time of their lives in the Barbie Land. When an unexpected existential crisis prompts Barbie to go on an adventure to the real world, they soon discover the joys and perils of living among humans.

Women who grew up with Barbie dolls will instantly recognize the “dream girl, dream life” concept and aesthetics that this movie presents, with the stellar production design giving both pink slumber party and Malibu beach. Children of today will also enjoy it because Barbie iconography has become so ubiquitous in little girls’ lives.

But there are many of us who have had shifting, complicated experiences with the idea of the doll as the perfect woman. Maybe we believed in it once, long ago, no matter how fleeting or involuntary that stage in life was (hands up, girls who were given Barbies as their default toy!). Now, with the realities of life, maybe not so much.

Simply put, this movie is dedicated to the well-meaning intentions behind why Barbie came to exist, as well as the conflicting feelings about what Barbie has become.

And yes, this is a big blockbuster, meant to make Mattel loads of money.

Greta Gerwig is the director behind this messy mishmash of all those intentions present in Barbie (2023), and one would think that the heart of it would get lost. I’m happy to report that, despite all that, this movie still has the sheer sincerity that has characterized Ms. Gerwig’s work in smaller projects (coming-of-age flick Lady Bird being the most notable).

Margot Robbie proves that she goes beyond looking like Barbie and understands how important the woman’s journey is. She rolls with the punches of the movie’s sincere storytelling, her expressions going from picture-perfect to being utterly marred by the disappointments of reality.

Meanwhile, Ryan Gosling gives his all as Ken, at first playing the ideal supportive boyfriend to a T and later displaying complex emotions of his own as the story progresses. Without spoiling anything, his character arc sends vital messages about manhood in relation to women that the men watching can take away from the movie (whether they’re there accompanying their daughters or their girlfriends).

But as great and entertaining as Mr. Gosling is, the Barbie and Ken duo might not even be the core of the film. The true partner who joins hands with Barbie over the course of the movie is Gloria (America Ferrera). Coming from the real world, she is the stand-in for the women in the audience.

It’s through Gloria that we can engage with long-standing critiques of Barbie being an unhealthy, artificial and consumerist symbol for girls to emulate. Having a movie that opens with the Mattel logo be so open about how profit drives the machinery of the beloved toy brand today is fascinatingly compelling.

The movie acknowledges that, at some point in time, girls have wanted to be Barbie, and at others, girls have rejected Barbie and her dated messaging. The movie, as with all coming-of-age tales, provides its own, cynical-yet-heartwarming mix of a conclusion to that complex journey.

It has kid humor, moments of in-your-face women empowerment,  silly but elegant dance numbers, set pieces and well-orchestrated plots to allow the characters to grow.

It’s pretty, cynical, heartwarming, and imperfect, but ultimately sincere. Girls will resonate so much to the sad parts, but for sure they’ll have a quite a bit of fun. — Bronte H. Lacsamana