Director Greta Gerwig (Little Women, Lady Bird) delivers an impressive, nuanced work of art which is a guaranteed best picture Oscar contender with Barbie. Warner Brothers wisely trusted in Gerwig’s vision as director and co-writer, tackling this iconic Mattel property alongside star and producer Margot Robbie.

Noah Baumbach, Gerwig’s partner, joined her in co-writing the script which her that balances real emotion and sharp jokes… one particular jab about DC’s cancelled “Synder-verse” had the theater roaring in response.

There’s also the catchy musical number “I’m Just Ken” which poised for an Oscar nomination thanks to songwriter Mark Ronson and the performance by Ryan Gosling. There’s so much to like in this film, it’s hard to find any underlying flaw or a single underdeveloped element.

Barbie is a shining example of what a filmmaker’s voice and vision can deliver when examining a toy brand property with no previous narrative. If you look back at the board game film adaptation of Battleship, you can imagine just how wrong Barbie could’ve gone in the wrong hands.

In the fictional world of Barbieland, which is somehow connected (via sailing on the oceans, snow-skiing, and rollerblading) with our reality, women (all named Barbie) rule and the men (the Kens) are just afterthoughts. In this world, the Kens were meant to only complement the Barbies. The stereotypical standard model of Barbie (Margot Robbie) is our protagonist. The audiences watches as Robbie’s Barbie goes through her daily routine of scrubbing, brushingm and breakfast, before magically floating down to her car.

A hilarious and helpful voice over narrator (a pitch perfect Helen Mirren) guides the audience through the various protocols and characters in Barbieland. It’s quickly clear that the Ryan Gosling’s Ken is unsatisfied with his life of trying to impress Barbie but always being excluded from the nightly dance parties (sorry, girls only).

As it turns out, Robbie’s Barbie is starting to have thoughts of death and she’s losing her “groove” as a result. Robbie’s Barbie is walking differently, seeing the world differently, and after consulting weird Barbie (Kate McKinnon) she learns she must find the human playing with her in the real world and get these issues sorted out, before she gets the dreaded cellulite!

Robbie’s Barbie drives out of town on her trek toward the real world, and she’s surprised to see Gosling’s Ken as he secretly tagged along. After some arguing, she agrees to let Ken join her on this adventure.

The production design of Sarah Greenwood is utterly fantastic and Oscar caliber. The Barbieland set delivers impressive designs that cater to the historical accuracy of some Barbie products while building a world in unison with Gerwig’s vision for the film. The costumes of Jacqueline Durran are also fantastic, as is the work of lead hair and makeup artist Ivana Primorac.

In truth, the below the line Oscar potential here is immeasurable, with lead actress and supporting actor also guaranteed nominations for Robbie and Gosling respectively.

Gosling’s Ken arc takes shape after entering the “real world” and seeing a life outside Barbieland, where the men seemingly rule and set the rules. Gosling’s Ken takes a liking to this way of life (along with all the horses and cowboy hats), and brings it back to Barbieland while Robbie’s Barbie bonds with Gloria (America Ferrera), a Mattel employee dealing with an existential crisis in the real world. Gloria was the one playing with Robbie’s Barbie and triggered the “world’s colliding” paradox that Will Ferrell’s Mattell CEO is fighting to stop.

Gloria and her daughter Sasha (Ariana Greenblatt) return to Barbieland with Robbie’s Barbie to find the Kens running amuck. All the Barbies have been brainwashed into serving the men beers and listening to Matchbox 20 (Gerwig clearly has some 90s love on display with the inclusion of “Push”).

Robbie’s Barbie falls into depression at the loss of her friends and the Kens’ takeover of her home. A passionate speech from Gloria about the pressures and demands on professional, successful women in the real world triggers one of the Barbies to snap out of the brainwashed fog.

Now the Barbies have a way to take back their autonomy with Gloria’s help. The Barbies retake control of Barbieland after triggering the Kens to have an epic face off which is triggers the catchy “I’m Just Ken” performance.

Beyond the comedic beats of the song, Ronson’s track manages to be impactful with its lyrics about the Kens being underappreciated in their role in Barbieland. As it turns out, the final act isn’t about “bringing down the Ken’s Barbieland patriarchy,” it’s about making a more inclusive world where the Kens don’t have to feel marginalized and resentful of their counterparts.

Billie Eilish’s tender and poignant song, “What Was I Made For,” lifts the finale in the final moments as Robbie’s Barbie becomes human and enters the real world where she will live and ultimately die.

It’s a blockbuster studio release tackles the profundity and brevity of life amid an awesome, colorful world. With some many stellar above and below the line artists delivering on this project, one can’t help but think Gerwig will finally get a much deserved Oscar nomination herself, as both a writer and a director on this A+ endeavor.

Letter Grade: A+

About The Author

Founder, Awards Editor

Byron Burton is the Awards Editor and Chief Critic at Awards Focus and a National Arts and Entertainment Journalism Award winning journalist for his work at The Hollywood Reporter.

Byron is a voting member of the Television Academy, Critics Choice Association, and the Society of Composers & Lyricists (the SCL) for his work on Marvel's X-Men Apocalypse (2016). Working as a journalist and moderator, Byron hosts Emmy and Oscar panels for the major studios, featuring their Below The Line and Above The Line nominees (in partnership with their respective guilds).

Moderating highlights include Ingle Dodd's "Behind the Slate" Screening Series and their "Spotlight Live" event at the American Legion in Hollywood. Byron covered the six person panel for Universal's "NOPE" as well as panels for Hulu's "Pam & Tommy Lee" and "Welcome to Chippendales" and HBO Max's "Barry" and "Euphoria."

For songwriters and composers, Byron is a frequent moderator for panels with the Society of Composers and Lyricists (SCL) as well as The ArcLight's Hitting the High Note Oscar series.

Byron's panels range from FX's Fargo to Netflix's The Crown, The Queen's Gambit, The Witcher & Bridgerton; HBO Max's The Flight Attendant, Hacks, Succession, Insecure, & Lovecraft Country; Amazon Studios' The Legend of Vox Machina, Wild Cat, & Annette; and Apple TV+s Ted Lasso, Bad Sisters, and 5 Days at Memorial.

In February of 2020, Byron organized and hosted the Aiding Australia Initiative; launched to assist in the restoration and rehabilitation of Australia's wildlife (an estimated 3 billion animals killed or maimed and a landmass the size of Syria decimated).

Participating talent for Aiding Australia includes Robert Downey Jr., Michael Keaton, Jeremy Renner, Harrison Ford, Jim Carrey, Josh Brolin, Bryan Cranston, Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, JK Simmons, Tobey Maguire, Alfred Molina, James Franco, Danny Elfman, Tim Burton, Kim Basinger, Robert Wuhl, Tim Allen, Colin Hay, Drew Struzan, and Michael Rosenbaum.

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