At The Movies With Josh:

Remember there was a time when everyone was playing “The Wizard of Oz” and Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon” at the same time to see if they matched up? I thought this movie might be better if you did something like that. Play the song “Barbie Girl”. Although just like with the Pink Floyd experiment, you’d probably need to have a lot of pot or acid to make this truly enjoyable.

Yes, the cinematography from Rodrigo Prieto was great. There were lovely set-pieces (Sarah Greenwood made this vibrant and fun). At times I thought of “Don’t Worry, Darling” (an underrated film). 

We’ll see the costumes getting an Oscar nomination. It’s just a shame that two filmmakers I dig – Greta Gerwig (“Lady Bird” was genius) and her boyfriend, director Noah Baumbach (“Marriage Story” and “The Squid and the Whale” were genius) – gave us this hot mess.

You couldn’t ask for a better cast. Margot Robbie as Barbie is brilliant (and a clever joke is made about that by the film’s narrator – Helen Mirren). Ryan Gosling isn’t the best look for Ken, but he’s terrific in the part. The problem was, his schtick got old quick, and the movie probably featured more with the Kens than the Barbies (which made me wish, since Gerwig started out as this indie filmmaker, why she didn’t use the song by indie singer/songwriter Stew and TNP, “Ken,” which is all about how Ken is really gay and not wanting Barbie but G.I. Joe, but I digress.)

The movie is bookended by two terrific jokes. The opening is a take-off on “2001: A Space Odyssey” and it’s brilliantly written and conceived. The joke that ends the movie I won’t spoil, but it’s great. The problem is, in between, the movie just isn’t all that funny. Maybe 10 jokes in the entire two hour movie worked. It was too long and boring, and it didn’t know what kind of picture it wanted to be – a feminist farce or pop culture celebration. It was a bit of everything, with none done all that well. I’ll give you an example of two jokes, and why they’re an example of why you’ll wonder who this movie is for.

Will Ferrell is the Mattel executive. Yes, it’s funny to see him holding drumsticks in a meeting, and him wanting Barbie to “get back in the box.” But here’s the test. At one point talking about the various Barbies that didn’t work, and exclaiming that the “Proust Barbie didn’t sell well.” Now, throw that joke at your teen and see if they even get it. The other “joke.” An angry teenage girl, in the real world, is telling off Barbie and says, “You represent everything wrong with our culture. You destroyed the planet with your glorification of rampant consumerism, you fascist!”

Barbie gets a tear and responds, “You think I’m a fascist? I don’t control the railways or the flow of commerce!”

That bit of dialogue is exactly what is wrong with the movie. 

Many people will bring their children to this, but it’s not really appropriate for them. Sure, the masturbation joke and a few double-entendres will go over their heads, but still.

The first half hour of the movie is what many consider the best with Barbie in her dream house and driving her vintage Corvette (a pink Corvette is sacrilege to us classic Corvette owners). Yet even that first half hour is merely cute, not hysterically funny.

Just as Will Ferrell has played those types of characters before (The Lego Movie), Kate McKinnon has done the type of character she does here, but is a bit of fun as Weird Barbie, her condition brought on by her owner drawing on her, cutting her hair, and playing “too hard” with her (that, and a few other things, reminded me a bit of Toy Story).

Since Barbie is getting flat feet and having thoughts about death, cellulite, Weird Barbie tells her she has to go into the real world to find her owner and see what’s up. The problem with that is that once they arrive on Venice Beach, nothing very funny happens with this fish-out-of-water concept (not to mention the fact that, Barbie and Ken roller-skating in goofy outfits, would hardly get them mocked on that boardwalk).

Ken does see that men do a lot more in the real world, and takes his beliefs of patriarchy back to Barbie Land. Again, that’s a bit of fun, for about five minutes. Then it gets old.

There are a handful of song-and-dance numbers that aren’t all that great, and felt like they’re from a different film. It also feels like a different film when we hear several monologues and rants bashing men, and talking about women’s rights, female self-loathing, sexism, and feminism. Instead of being profound pieces of dialogue, they stop the movie in its tracks. It’s as if Gerwig wants to be involved in a Hollywood blockbuster, but also let people know she’s still that kooky indie princess that’s smarter than everyone in the room. And sometimes, that can make things worse. 

There’s a fun scene with characters talking about “Pride and Prejudice” and shows a clip of the movie. Yet when all the Kens change and become macho men that drink “brewskis” – a scene where Ken has to man-splain “The Godfather” to Barbie, was ruined by what was said about the movie (talk of Robert Evans and Coppola, and filmmakers of the ‘70s; that’s a problem Tarantino has in his movies, when he wants to show off his film knowledge from the past geniuses). 

Regarding the rest of the cast, Simu Liu (who I loved on “Kim’s Convenience” and in “Shang-Chi”) was fun as the rival Ken. America Ferrera was okay, but her storyline wasn’t fleshed out as well as it could’ve been. Michael Cera’s character Allan, made no sense. And I always want to see more Rhea Pearlman (Taxi, Cheers), but after the horrible film “Poms” a few years back, I wanted something other than the few bizarre scenes she had in this (one that went on entirely too long). Issa Rae keeps her streak alive of always playing a character in a movie I enjoy (she’s the President Barbie of Barbie Land). See her in two of the most underrated comedies around – “Vengeance” from last year and “The Lovebirds” from Covid times.

I was also a bit curious about the product placement. We used to diss that in movies, but now it seems welcome. I don’t care either way, but it was an observation I made after seeing the Mario Bros movie earlier this year (perhaps being nice is what’s required when you want the rights to a popular video game or a Mattel doll). I’m more perplexed by seeing commercials that combine an ad for the movie with a product (Applebee’s does a lot of these, and the one with Barbie is with an insurance company). Those are just bizarre.

This movie needed to be a straight-up satire with more big jokes, and less preaching. It also didn’t need to be two hours long. My wife and I were bored during most of it.

1 ½ stars out of 5.

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