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There's more to Greta Gerwig's Barbie project than meets the eye. We've reviewed the Oppenheimer challenger.

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What happens when a toy starts thinking about death? The indie filmmakers behind Ladybird and The Squid and The Whale have taken on the task of telling the story of Barbie, but not the story you've imagined. This Barbie goes on a life-changing journey into our reality to find the girl who has given rise to the doll's deathly anxiety and not only discovers bittersweet truths about the human world, she also realises that she is more than what she was originally created to be. Groovy!

I don't have a particularly strong relationship with Mattel's plastic dolls, other than the times I pulled the hair out of my sisters' dolls and threw them out the window when I was a rowdy young boy. I didn't hate the dolls, it just symbolised everything we boys hated: fashion, make-up, girls' nights out, and - God forbid - ponies! But in Greta Gerwig's version, Barbie is much more than that: Barbie is a revolution in the toy industry, she is the essence of pleasant childhood days, she is a shocking pink feminist symbol that comes in all cultural flavours and sizes, she is an unrealistic, out-of-this-world idea of beauty that girls struggle to achieve. She is perfection, she is a defect, she is Barbie, pure and simple.

Margot Robbie and Ryan Gosling are perfect as dolls with existential angst.

In filmmaker Greta Gerwig's Barbie world, Barbie is a bit of everything: it's a colourful Lego Movie for adults. It's a quirky meta-comedy with musical elements, it's a politically charged story about the eternal struggle against patriarchy, it's an existential journey about finding your true self in a confusing world. Gerwig has transformed the brand into her own playhouse, which on the one hand is a refreshing angle in a plethora of more or less unimaginative licensed films, but on the other hand, it's also an overloaded film that doesn't always manage to stitch together all the seams of the film. Still, it's a fun romp, despite its flaws.

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Margot Robbie is really good as the stereotypical Barbie doll trying to find her soul after realising that she can no longer live the perfect Barbie life. There are many intimate scenes where Barbie experiences the complications of real life and these are the highlights of the film. Stealing the spotlight, however, is Ryan Gosling who is absolutely hilarious as Ken, a bleached blonde simp doll who still pines for Barbie even though she has placed him firmly in the friend zone. His transition from feminine beach boy to pure douchebro is wonderfully silly and provides the film's biggest laugh.

When Gosling doesn't shine with his presence, however, the film also falls flat under its many attempts at humour, especially when some serious moments were diminished by the obligatory cheap joke. The heightened realism is fun, if uneven. Technically, the Dr Seuss-scented LSD trip works really well at first, with the production design and photography working effectively. Once Barbie reaches our more depressing reality, however, the contrast is damaged by Mattel's headquarters, which for some reason is as wild as Barbie's world. Will Ferrell quickly becomes a tiresome buffoon as Mattel's CEO and the way he is integrated into the film feels more odd than funny. A lot of scenes could have been cut out of this film.

Many jokes land flat, but there's plenty of visual eye candy to entertain.

There's also a story between a mother and her estranged teenage daughter that gets lost in the mix, and it's easy to lose track of its emotional thread when the narrative gets too long-winded and wobbly towards the final jam-packed act. Barbie is as celebratory as it is critical of the doll's importance, but also picks up some easy stereotype points along the way. At the same time, I appreciate much of the quirky tone that Gerwig has gone for here. She could have taken the easy way out and made a conventional commercial for Mattel - which it basically is - but there's also a lot going on here about gender roles and corporate culture, which makes it a little more colourful.

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Ultimately, Barbie is an uneven but entertaining meta-comedy that isn't afraid to take odd directions - such as creating a political conflict in toyland between Barbies and Kens - but is a little too clumsy in its preaching. There are a lot of ideas here jostling for space, and that makes a bunch of characters come across as mostly forgotten, but there's also a drive behind Barbie's existential journey that makes it more than just pink plastic and glittery hairstyles.

06 Gamereactor UK
6 / 10
overall score
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