A still from 'Barbie' out in UAE cinemas now Image Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures

Barbie, the waifish stiletto-clad doll emblematic of impossible body and beauty standards, taught me a thing or two about feminism and smashing patriarchy with as much subtlety as her sharp heels.

Now that’s a sentence I thought I would never write. But director Greta Gerwig’s candy-flossed whimsical satire has done a neat job of creating an entertaining film that turns criticisms against the Mattel play doll on its head and comes up with a subversive storyline which isn’t boring.

The makers are keenly aware of the criticisms levelled against the popular playthings such as reinforcing traditional  gender divisions and stereotypes, but are smartly in on the jibes. Their acknowledgement on missteps of those Mattel creations is what adds credibility to this feature and amplifies its appeal.

The fantastical pink-toned paradise opens with actress and producer Margot Robbie waking up as this “perfect Barbie” in her utopian Barbieland. She’s blissfully happy in her world, but her luminous existence dims when she’s suddenly struck with an existentialist crisis. Thoughts of her own death and gloom begin to plague her, and Robbie is forced to make some tough calls and leave her Barbieland, only to step into the male-dominated toxic real world.

Margot Robbie and Ryan Gosling in 'Barbie'

On the periphery and in her shadows lives Ken (Ryan Gosling), who is seemingly starved for her attention and affection. More on that later.

Robbie, with her blonde hair and toned body, is perfectly cast in the titular role. But it’s not her well-composed bits that had our heart. The scenes in which the perfect-now-broken Barbie is acquainted with her own vulnerabilities and painfully realises that women are often pigeonholed and stereotyped had our hearts. Watch out for the scene where she crumbles into the ground in sheer despair and Gloria (America Ferrera) – an employee of Mattel toy company and mother to teenage daughter Sasha (Ariana Greenblatt) from the real world, gives her a rousing pep-talk on how women have been battling for a seat in the boardroom for decades and are being assigned specific roles all their lives.

The parts where she’s plagued by insecurity and realizes that women are often taught to be “extraordinary” hits the sweet spot. But ‘Barbie’ isn’t just estrogen central. The Kens in the Barbie world also get to slay.

Gosling’s character transformation from an eager puppy of a being to a patriarchal hyper-masculine male, after he gets corrupted by the real world, is genuinely witty and on-point. His love for horses and his return to Barbieland with a renewed sense of purpose and his mission to male-wash Barbieland brings out genuine laughs.

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But be warned, the man-slating and feminism extolling is at times a bit too strong. It’s all spelled out to its last letter and the sheen off the bubblegum world comes off a bit then.

In terms of acting, every actor in this film pulls their weight. Ferrera to Ferrell, who plays the imperious Mattel CEO, bring their A-game into the mix. Kate McKinnon, who plays the “weird Barbie”, makes being a misfit fabulous. Her choppy blonde hair, pink dress, and crayon-scribbled face drive home that point effortlessly.

This movie, which is rated 15+ in the UAE cinemas, has a string of interesting comments on gender divides and roles, but the film – despite its airy-fairy feel – becomes overwhelming as it tries to cram too much messaging. If you can overlook that dent, there’s a lot of fun to be had in this playful candy concoction of cinema.

Our star rating:
Film: Barbie
Director: Greta Gerwig
Cast: Margot Robbie, Ryan Gosling, America Ferrera, Kate McKinnon, Michael Cera, Issa Rae, Rhea Perlman, Will Ferrell
Stars: 3.5 out of 5