A hilarious lament on the objectively unfair burden of being a human woman, writer/director Greta Gerwig’s “Barbie” is as gloriously overt and subtlety-free as its titular character. Any fears of Gerwig and cowriter Noah Baumbach being too precious or clever are quickly obliterated, like tears in the rain or Oppenheimer’s boom-boom. It is proudly on-the-nose, equally capable of winning over both the doll’s devotees and disparagers, and a reminder that Kate McKinnon is the funniest GD person alive.

The expectation was for Gerwig to deliver a comedic, mass-appealing adaptation that celebrates a beloved icon whose very name is often used as a pejorative to disparage femininity. She does all of that somehow. As if shrugging at the oxymoronic request, “Barbie” wears the demanded duality as well as she has ever donned any of her ill-conceived accessories. Perhaps the most faithful part of the toy’s adaptation is the complete lack of nuance here. Calling out the patriarchy, capitalism, and sexual expectations by name every few lines of dialogue, this would be “performative wokeness” if it wasn’t so stinking sincere, which it absolutely is.

To explain, Barbie (Margot Robbie) begins having an existential crisis that prompts her to flee Barbieland, which is basically a “feminist utopia” as designed by someone who should really read more bell hooks. After consulting with Weird Barbie (McKinnon), a living manifestation of that one doll everyone had who got mutilated by a tween about to really go through some stuff, Barbs heads to the real world. There, she must repair a relationship with Gloria (America Ferrera) and her daughter, Sasha (Ariana Greenblatt), in order to fix the rift opening between imagination and reality.

Ken (Ryan Gosling) begs his way into the situation and ruins everything because he lives in a toxic dynamic in which his entire self-worth is Barbie-dependent. She thinks he’s kind of a tool. To be fair, his job is “beach.” Mattel’s CEO (Will Ferrell) tries to chase her down and get her “back in her box,” while various other Kens and Barbies are sucked into a battle of gender norms, social order, and sexism, the holy trinity of female existentialism. Songs are sung, dances are danced, and Midge (Emerald Fennell) and Allen (Michael Cera) are also present.

In the same way that “Blade Runner” used androids to explore the pain and loss that defines the human experience, “Barbie” leverages formerly plastic dolls to ladle out obvious but hard-to-swallow truths. It only works because Robbie and Gosling are capable of being 100% ridiculous and 100% genuine simultaneously. Fitting for the film’s themes, he gets the easier, splashier, funnier role. It’s maybe his best. You know what, scratch that “maybe.” He sells every line of dialogue, including the repeated phrase “Mojo Dojo Casa House,” which is the new “Person. Woman. Man. Camera. TV.” The only thing better than Gosling scrunching up his face during all-out music numbers is his incredibly believable fragility by the film’s end.

Robbie has the tougher task because of course she does. As “Stereotypical Barbie,” she has such little character to work with. That she moved many audience members to literal tears is proof that she is too often left off of lists spotlighting our greatest performers and also evidence of Gerwig’s endgame. What ultimately makes “Barbie” one of the greatest mainstream adaptations of all time is the decision to do silly shit with as much legitimate sincerity as possible.

That’s what playing with Barbie is, right? It’s loaded with meaning but completely goofy. It is a simulation and recognition of reality but also absolutely ridiculous. It is as aspirational and imaginative as it is depressingly reductionist.

Set aside all the high-minded insights, the film is still a delightful watch and the funniest of the year so far. There is no escaping the onslaught of corporations squeezing profit from every “intellectual property” available. Rage all you want, it’s still going to happen, and this is the best version of what it can be. At various points, the movie bemoans the impossible request for women to somehow please everyone. Somehow, “Barbie” actually does.

Grade = A

Other Critical Voices to Consider

Li Lai at Mediaversity Reviews says “On its face, ‘Barbie’ really does do it all. But in that pursuit of widespread appreciation, it never gels into anything more than an interesting thought experiment and campy comedy.”

Sarah Michelle Fetters at Movie Freak says “If one threw ‘Playtime,’ ‘The Umbrellas of Cherbourg,’ ‘Singin’ in the Rain,’ ‘Sabrina,’ ‘Young Frankenstein,’ and ‘Josie and the Pussycats’ into a blender and poured the contents into a glass, it’s likely that the pink-colored concoction would look a lot like Greta Gerwig’s ‘Barbie.’”

Carla Hay at Culture Mix says the film is a “candy-hued madcap adventure that sometimes gets overstuffed and unfocused in what it’s trying to say. It’s an occasionally bumpy ride that’s still worth the journey, but it’s best appreciated for people who are attuned to the impact that Mattel’s Barbie dolls have had on the perception of ‘feminine ideals.’”

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