From an inspired homage to “2001: A Space Odyssey” to a pivotal trip to real world Los Angeles blending funny romp with cautionary tale, “Barbie” is full of delectable delights. Let’s be thankful the film avoided media overkill prior to its debut by retaining a sense of intrigue beyond its colorful trailer.
Here are five takeaways from this terrific, timely and imaginative crowd-pleaser.
1. The Mattel Dream Team: Margot Robbie and Ryan Gosling
Is there anyone Margot Robbie can’t become? She played Tonya Harding with eerie finesse in “I, Tonya,” fiercely embodied Harley Quinn in “Suicide Squad,” was an uninhibited firecracker as silent film star Nellie LaRoy in “Babylon,” and is now the epitome of perfection-in-reflection as Stereotypical Barbie, who questions her seemingly idyllic life in Barbie Land. Much more than a pretty face in cute clothes, Robbie leans into the emotion of the role, beautifully expressing Barbie’s internal struggle of self-acceptance (no one cries on cue like Robbie) and the ultimate joy that comes from taking back her power with the help of her fellow Barbies. Equally remarkable is 43-year-old Ryan Gosling, 10 years older than Robbie, as doting sidekick Ken. After Ken joins Barbie in L.A. and realizes men have a masculine upper hand, Gosling’s descent into territorial dominance complete with fur coat and endless horse imagery is a revelation. Whether serenading Robbie with Matchbox Twenty’s “Push” or sincerely professing “I’m Just Ken,” Gosling’s Kenergy is a sight to behold.
2. Kate McKinnon as the lovable outsider
“Saturday Night Live” veteran Kate McKinnon lives and breathes kooky, but she’s still a hoot as scene-stealing, leg-bending Weird Barbie, the eccentric outsider who guides Barbie on her mission to greater. McKinnon revels in the character’s oddities and, more importantly, her confidence, reminding us that embracing what makes you different always has the potential to inspire others.
3. America Ferrera’s fiery monologue
The turning point of the film belongs to America Ferrera as Gloria, a Mattel employee from the real world who travels to Barbie Land and releases the Barbies from their submissiveness during the patriarchal reign of the Kens. Delivering a monologue that could double as a debrief of Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign, Ferrera powerfully reminds the Barbies of the expectations and pressures of being a woman in America. It is a singular, elevated moment that encourages a larger discussion of what equality actually means in 2023.
4. The Greta Gerwig era is finally here
As an indie darling and three-time Academy Award nominee (“Lady Bird,” “Little Women”), Greta Gerwig continues to shake up Hollywood by staying true to the themes that have served her well in the past: universal stories of women, family and identity. Even her idea of Barbie Land is totally diverse and doesn’t contain one specific body type. Now that “Barbie” is bankable, look for more Gerwig magic to reel in the masses as only she can.
5. Let the Oscar buzz begin
Comedies are usually a lost cause at the Oscars, but “Barbie” could be the game-changer mainstream audiences have been hoping for and rightly so. Gerwig’s screenplay, co-written with her partner, Noah Baumbach, is an obvious contender, along with costumes and art/set direction. A Best Picture nomination is also a huge possibility, especially if there’s Kenough support within the Actors Branch to nominate Gosling for taking his endearingly funny portrayal (and vocals) to the hilt.