By John H. Foote

(***) In theatres

Barbie is a giddy, goofy, go-for-broke movie that delights from the opening through to the end.

Yes, I just said that. It is a credit to director Greta Gerwig and her lead actors, Margot Robbie and Ryan Gosling, that Barbie is downright terrific.

There is a lot to admire, even love about Barbie, the new film based on the incredibly popular doll that has sold billions since its inception over 60 years ago. My sister was the first one I knew to have a Barbie and she had several, but my daughters were in a completely different league. The oldest had every new one that came out and the houses and accessories. My youngest was more obsessed with Polly Pockets, the tiny figures, but was a Barbie fan too. If they were still little, I’m sure we would have been first in line to see it, but as they are grown, dear old Dad saw this one alone.

Greta Gerwig is an Oscar-nominated Best Director, and a major talent behind the camera. To be fair, she has shone in front of the camera as well, most notably in Frances Ha (2015) and Jackie (2016). When she directed Lady Bird (2017), she became an overnight sensation, earning an Academy Award nomination for Best Director, among the few women to accomplish such a thing. Her next film was the splendid Little Women (2019) which was a Best Picture nominee but a nomination for Gerwig as Best Director was not in the cards.

Ryan Gosling as Ken and Margot Robbie as Barbie

Tapped to direct Barbie, I had terrible fears for Gerwig. Was she selling out? Trading in her indy voice for big studio junk? I was concerned the Mattel corporation, which produces Barbie, might interfere, but it looks like they left Gerwig and star Margot Robbie alone to make the film they wanted to make. Whereas The Flintstones (1994) had more than 30 writers and still never touched the essence of the animated series, the director, writers and actors of Barbie get everything right. The result is a goofy, fun film that should be a cross over hit into the mainstream. Yet while often silly, it hits a chord with feminism as well making Barbie a hero of sorts for young women across the world, not that she was not already.

Inventive and original I have never seen a film quite like it, and hope it is embraced for its originality and spirit, which it has in abundance.

Barbie (Robbie) loves her life in her gleaming, pink plastic world until she begins to question her very existence. Surrounded by other Barbies, she is constantly smiling because what’s not to like about her life? But something nags at her, and she believes she can find it elsewhere. Hitting the road, she decides to find out what life is like in the real world of flesh-and-blood people. Into her pink car she hops and hits the road, we half expect it to be yellow bricked! Along for the ride is Ken (Ryan Gosling), a stowaway who must go because he depends on Barbie to justify his own existence. Without her he has literally nothing to do.

Once in the real world the film makes some perfect commentaries about the female body, and Ken develops from a doofus into a macho dude, believing this is how a man acts. Swaggering about, he is hysterically funny, and Gosling very nearly steals the film.

But it remains the Robbie show and she is, as always, a delight. Cheerful, optimistic, wide eyed, there is no one else on the planet who could have played the part. And make no mistake, she finds depth in Barbie. Yes, Robbie might be the perfect female specimen, but she brings to the role so much more and the evolution of her character is lovely to watch.

You might need two or three viewings to take in every detail of the film as the sets are filled with wonders that are sometimes not spotted while watching the actors. Do it, the experience only deepens.

This is among the year’s very best films and happiest surprises of the last 10 years.

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