After a rather triumphant run at the box office breaking records and creating a moment in filmgoing – where pink was the only acceptable attire at the theater, Greta Gerwig’s latest Barbie hits physical media on 4K UHD. The film had the Lady Bird auteur officially entering the big leagues with her summer IP adaptation starring Margot Robbie as the titular doll, which is a right of passage we are more than accustomed to – the indie darling choosing to adapt an pre-established property. But rather than playing in the comic book or Star Wars sandboxes, Gerwig chose a rather mundane toy, blessing it with an impressively existential and subversive film that, like Little Women, is another poignant feminist masterwork. This was a rather impressive gambit that not only made the film a box office juggernaut, but took a plastic doll and much like the film imbued it with life as Gerwig has managed to embed some truly impressive subtext in the doll’s journey that gave the film some surprising awards chatter on release that still feels very relevant today.
The film starts off in Barbieland, where we find all the different Barbies and their Kens from Mattel’s past and present reside in a sunny female led utopia. Margot’s Stereotypical Barbie is content to live her day-to-day life in this magical world, where every day she is living her best day. The Barbies who govern the small land truly believe, their world is mirrored in our real world. This all while they’re insecure, emasculated Kens are relegated to spending the film relentlessly vying for their Barbie’s approval in this cinematic genderswapped looking glass. One day Margot’s Barbie is uncharacteristically plagued by thoughts of death, and this requires a visit to the “Weird Barbie”, played hilariously by Kate Mckennon. She tells her all the Barbies in Barbieland have an invisible bond with the person who’s playing with them in the real world. She needs to seek out that person to discover why she is suddenly burdened by a mortality she doesn’t share, since Barbie is more an idea, than a person.
The film functions on a very loose logic, it’s very clear that you shouldn’t think too hard about how this all works. This is because it has more important things to do rather than getting lost in the weeds of quantum mechanics and inter-dimensional travel between our world and Barbieland. Instead we focus on the more “human” story that has Barbie coming to the real world only to discover it’s not quite the mirror she was expecting to look into. Instead it’s driven by the patriarchy, which is something the insecure Ken who hitched a ride immediately latches onto and brings to Barbie Land. This all transpires while Barbie attempts to resolve her existential crisis discovering after stepping through the looking glass, she wants to be the reality – rather than the idea of that reality. When she finally returns to Barbie Land with the mother and daughter responsible for her conundrum she finds the Kens, led by Gosling’s scene stealing take on the doll having successfully staged a coup installing the horse obsessed patriarchy into Barbieland.
So it’s up to Barbie to re-empower her fellow Barbies and overthrow the patriarchy, all while figuring out where she fits in the bigger picture. Thankfully Gerwig and co-writer and partner Noah Baumbach aren’t simply content with making this a love story between Ken and Barbie. While one could simply be entertained by Ryan Gosling’s truly dastardly and lovable antagonist and his turn as the comedic heavy, there’s dense layers of ideas and gender identity the film chooses to dissect instead. This is thanks to both Robbie and Gosling taking the material serious and dealing out performances that work to give these characters some real emotion: to not only Barbie’s first interaction with a young girl who tells her how much damage the doll has done to women, but the vulnerability and fragile masculinity of Gosling’s Ken. This has the actor stopping the show while delivering the heartbreaking musical number of the year, I’m Just Ken. The pair not only strut their comedic chops, but plunge their emotions as well turning in some truly tender and fragile moments from both dolls, making you genuinely invested and feel something for these characters.
The film on the disc is gorgeously rendered with HDR on a dual layer 4K UHD with a very impressive and robust Atmos mix, (the bass in the closing credits actually set off my neighbor’s car alarm) however, it’s missing the scenes and bits fans of the film have been long hearing about since it was released. While this film may be the definitive take on the ip, this disc is not the definitive version of the film. There was also a plethora of rumored deleted and alternate scenes (a fart musical number?!?!), some shot and some not, along with an alternate ending that had our narrator Helen Mirren making an appearance. That is nowhere to be found here, save for a few featurettes. So while you do have in your hands a perfect presentation, I almost wager there will be a double dip edition on the horizon come awards season.
Barbie simply stated is a blockbuster masterwork, and a film that like its namesake doll will no doubt be passed from mother to daughter for generations to come. And that’s EXACTLY why we shouldn’t rule Barbie out, come awards season. Robbie gives a performance on par with her shockingly underrated turn in iTonya against what is easily one of Gosling’s most comedically and emotionally well rounded turns ever. It’s also the masterful way Gerwig operates on two completely different wavelengths, with a story that while completely entertaining on the surface, is just beneath it a film that deals with some substantially charged themes, especially today. Oppression, identity and gender are all in the mix here in various degrees of subtext. Its that flawlessly constructed narrative and balancing act that makes this work, in this climate of pre-established IPs and tie-ins something that is acknowledged, rewarded, and aspirational to anyone that says action on a film set.
Because this is why we have movies. Not just to see pretty people do planned choreography to a bespoke song, but to dream and dare, just like Barbie.