Breezy ‘Barbie’ is a blast — a smart, funny social commentary dressed up in candy colors

Margot Robbie and Ryan Gosling achieve some sublime moments as the dolls who discover life isn’t easy outside the safety of Barbieland.

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Barbie movie Margot Robbie Ryan Gosling Ken

“Barbie” opens with the title character (Margot Robbie) living in a cheerfully artificial world with boyfriend Ken (Ryan Gosling) but starting to become self-aware.

Warner Bros.

Given the massive waves of admittedly clever and very pink marketing we’ve experienced in the weeks and months leading up to the release of Greta Gerwig’s “Barbie,” I found myself thinking this better be the “Citizen Kane” of Movies Based on Real Toys or Dolls, and you know what, it is indeed the “Citizen Kane” of Movies Based on Real Toys or Dolls. I mean, who’s going to lay claim to the title? You, “Transformers,” or you, “G.I. Joe,” or you, “Care Bears Movie,” or you, “The Lego Movie”?

OK, so I actually loved “The Lego Movie,” but “Barbie” is next level. Thanks to the creative efforts of director Gerwig (who co-wrote the screenplay with her partner Noah Baumbach), the absolutely pitch-perfect casting starting with the gorgeous and talented humans Margot Robbie as Barbie and Ryan Gosling as Ken, and a candy-colored, screen-popping production design that transports us to Barbieland and beyond, this is a truly original work — one of the smartest, funniest, sweetest, most insightful and just plain flat-out entertaining movies of the year.

With Helen Mirren providing the narration (including a fourth-wall-breaking aside midway through the film that kills), “Barbie” begins with a prologue proving there’s still some original humor to be mined from paying homage to “2001: A Space Odyssey” as we see little girls reacting with great, um, enthusiasm to the arrival of Barbie, who pretty much breaks the mold when it comes to dolls.

From there, we’re plunged into Barbieland, a self-contained, Day-Glo-colored world that is so cheerfully artificial it makes the town in “The Truman Show” seem downright gritty. Margot Robbie’s Barbie is often referred to — and refers to herself — as “Stereotypical Barbie,” as she mirrors the Caucasian, fashion-conscious, shapely, fun-loving Barbie that was introduced by Mattel Inc. in 1959 and became wildly popular in America and worldwide.

‘Barbie’

Untitled

Warner Bros. presents a film directed by Greta Gerwig and written by Gerwig and Noah Baumbach. Running time: 114 minutes. Rated PG-13 (for suggestive references and brief language). Opens Thursday at local theaters.

With the brilliant cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto (“Brokeback Mountain,” “The Wolf of Wall Street”) lensing and six-time Oscar nominee production designer Sarah Greenwood delivering sets bursting with creative touches, we follow Barbie through her typical day, which is nearly identical to the day before and the day before that, and the day before that. She wakes up looking perfect, takes a shower (there’s no water because this is Barbie’s world), enjoys a breakfast (there’s no milk in that cup because this is pretend-land) and goes about her day, greeting a myriad of other Barbies, including: President Barbie (Issa Rae), Doctor Barbie (Hari Nef), Writer Barbie (Alexandra Shipp), Journalist Barbie (Ritu Arya) and Diplomat Barbie (Nicola Coughlan), among others.

You see, in Barbieland, the women are smart, educated, kind, caring, powerful, upbeat and in control, while the men are useless eye candy. Ryan Gosling’s Ken is a six-packed himbo who preens and poses on the beach, hoping to gain Barbie’s attentions and affections, while engaging in petty bickering with a series of equally dimwitted and hunky Kens played by Simu Liu, Kingsley Ben-Adir, Ncuti Gatwa and Scott Evans. (Nobody ever questions why there are no children or older people in Barbieland. It’s just … Barbieland!)

As usual, the night ends with a raging dance party at Barbie’s dream house — but Barbie stuns the whole gang when she suddenly blurts out, “You guys ever think about dying?”

Uh-oh. Something is going on. Barbie is becoming self-aware.

With the help of Weird Barbie (Kate McKinnon), who has been twisted this way and that, and had her hair chopped by the human who played with her, Barbie sets out for the Real World, with Ken along for the ride. Some predictable hijinks ensue, as Barbie quickly learns women are NOT in charge of everything, and Ken becomes enamored with learning about The Patriarchy, and you will never hear the term “The Patriarchy” as often as you’ll hear it in this movie. Will Ferrell does his Will Ferrell thing as the pompous blowhard CEO of Mattel, who directs his (all-male) upper management staff to find Barbie and literally put her in a box so she can be sent back to Barbieland. (Ken is an afterthought because Ken IS an afterthought.)

America Ferrera’s Gloria, a Mattel employee, becomes Barbie’s ally in the real world, while Gloria’s daughter Sasha (Ariana Greenblatt) tells Barbie she set the women’s movement back 50 years and can’t believe her mom is so excited to meet the real Barbie. With plenty of social commentary, not all of it particularly subtle, served up along the way, “Barbie” still never loses sight of its silly and wickedly funny side, especially through a handful of musical numbers, and a ridiculous battle sequence on the Barbieland beach involving waves of Kens using tennis rackets and volleyballs as weapons.

The ensemble cast is terrific, with Ferrera lending great heart and delivering a show-stopping speech about the expectations and pressures and burdens of being a woman. Robbie and Gosling sport some amazing costumes and truly lean into their roles; the acting here should not be underestimated because it’s a “Barbie” movie. There are small moments, as when Robbie as Barbie slumps to the ground and sits and then falls to the side exactly like an actual Barbie doll, that are sublime. Closing with one of the most memorable lines of any movie in recent memory, “Barbie” is a summer breeze of a movie and a pop culture phenomenon.

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