Anyone who owned a copy of Lips and had a quid spare to buy up Aqua’s terrible Barbie Girl was, indeed, living as Greta Gerwig intended. Her latest feature, Barbie, may be the sickening shoehorn of Mattel merchandise and the tip of an otherwise worrying iceberg, but if what follows is as fun as this, audiences are in safe, plastic hands. But the lightning-in-a-bottle experience of Barbie, the Margot Robbie-led feature which has nicely paired with a feature on the creation of atomic warfare, stands on its own without the necessity for merchandising. Justice for Alan (Michael Cera). No plans to reinvent the character or release him back to store shelves. It feels as though Barbie is less a marketing tool for an already major brand and more a fun little feature with a barebones style.
Said style is good fun, an enjoyable experience packed with more working jokes than most big-budget releases. Robbie and Ryan Gosling are in fine form as Twitter clicked onto months before the film was released. Stills and clips of the movie circled the bird app like hungover journalists circle the drain of sensibility. Gerwig had to prove there was depth beyond the gags and does so well with a nicely-timed script on the power struggle of the modern world. Ken turns from a servant of the brand to a horse-loving Andrew Tate wannabe in an effective and fascinating change in favour. Cameos are footed just about everywhere in this one, from pop stars to professional wrestlers, and they all make for nice enough moments. Rhea Seehorn and Helen Mirren are given a big swathe of the tender and funniest moments respectively.
Of course, it all comes down to Robbie, whose portrayal as the titular toy is, frankly, one of her best. She has been guided of course by the brands of old, the DC Comics and spot appearances in the likes of About Time and The Big Short. But this feels as though Robbie has been gifted a new step, one which favours her credibility as a titan of the modern screen, rather than the spare part she was for all those DC projects which infused Halloween costume potential with dullard scriptwriting. Barbie does not suffer from that thankfully, using its Rob Brydon cameos and well-intended, sickly colour pastiche to conjure up a story which is simple in premise and practice. That is all which is needed for this one, and Gerwig stretches Barbie further than first thought. Even Simu Liu looks good. The work of a master in full effect.
Barbie is a tremendous statement not just for the message at the heart of it, one which is timely, relevant and broad enough to work with or without the Mattel backing, but of the box office minefield. Paired with Oppenheimer, the work Gerwig, Robbie and company are putting into this is one of the most successful turnarounds of all. The Barbenheimer pull is real, the quality is there and any film which has a chiselled Gosling putting out his best work in years is in the good book of millions. Cera is a show stealer, the family angle at the core of Barbie works in motion with the rest of the film, a clunky way to bring in the real world which the plastic party animals are aware of. No being, malleable or not, deserves to know of Will Ferrell, but Barbie brings these two worlds crashing together.