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HBO Watch Movie Revew: “Barbie”

by Matthew Smith
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It’s the gift that keeps on giving, and the train that keeps on rolling.

After breaking multiple box-office records against the mammoth task of hitting theatres the same day as a Christopher Nolan picture, Greta Gerwig’s Barbie landed on MAX this week to further even further its colossal cultural impact. Why? Because it’s fucking awesome.

barbie1-300x143The very best movies, especially comedies, are the ones that have surface jokes and layered jokes in that, many, many moments are intended to land, and land for everyone. The funniest elements in Barbie are not in the gags as such though, but in the pitch-perfect performances from Margot Robbie and Ryan Gosling. In a testament to the strength of Gerwig’s direction – they understood the brief, were emboldened by its tonal balance, and committed everything they had to ensure a flawless execution of vision that appealed to casual filmgoers and hardcore buffs alike, of all ages. In fact, with every watch, it becomes more and more difficult to name a film with more general mass appeal.

Helpful it is that it is based on a mammoth global brand, but what Gerwig and her writing/life partner Noah Baumbach have achieved with (what must with absolution be referred to as) an original screenplay is almost too good to be true. It would be interesting to understand if they employed a chicken/egg approach, or if it was considerably more calculated than that. Did they start by nailing the basics of audience and studio expectations, and then imprint their policies on it from there, or did they own it all from the outset?

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Why this is so curious is that its unique delivery is quite unlike any film ever made – and that’s not hyperbole. It stands alone in its form, which is perhaps why it has recently scored the most Golden Globe nominations since 1975, and the most Critics’ Choice awards in the body’s history. It’s obviously hilarious where it needs to be, and understatedly hilarious beyond that. It’s overtly charged by feminism and a glossy satire of patriarchal norms but is justified and positively joyful in its handling of its core themes. While it is critical and rightfully so, it is also considerate, empathetic, and ultimately optimistic, leaving audiences giddy, rewarded, and thoughtful.

Barbie is a film of experience and thematics, which the plot finely services. When the writing, performances, and aesthetics are this immaculate, the actual line that the story follows isn’t all that important, so why overcomplicate it? Again, it’s a case of catering to the casuals who don’t want to think too hard, and on first attendance have been more driven by the prospect of seeing Ryan Gosling with his shirt off and/or Margot Robbie, well…she’s Margot Robbie (a fact that the film references in the most meta way imaginable). But once Gerwig has you in your seat, you are getting off this ride affected by more than that, whether you like it or not.

Everything kicks off in fine fashion, with a meticulously constructed transition from the ‘dawn of woman’ into the gushing color of Barbieland, but it’s not long before the illusion of perfection and indeed, the ignorance of anything beyond yourself, is shattered and Barbie must travel to the ‘real world’ in order to restore her preferred balance, or at least that’s her initial intent. And, wouldn’t you know it, she learns some hard truths along the way. But then, so does everyone in the audience. Some might call it heavy-handed in the final third, but to be honest, why shouldn’t it be? Nevertheless, the movie builds up and delivers its core social challenge via an empowered monologue from American Ferrera that so poignantly hits the nail on the head, that it’s impossible to ignore and even more difficult to disagree with.

Finally, it should be absolutely and unequivocally acknowledged that all of this strength is driven by one of the most electric original soundtracks of recent memory, with infectious turns from Mark Ronson and his team, by way of what are sure to be Oscar-nominated bops and ballads from Dua Lipa and Billie Eilish, respectively. Oh yeah, and Ryan Gosling sings a song as well, but you already know thabarbie5-300x143Turn up!

Barbie is currently available to stream on MAX and airs on HBO.

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