As reviews for “Barbie” rolled out ahead of its weekend opening, a critical divide emerged.

Some thought that Greta Gerwig, the acclaimed director of “Lady Bird” and “Little Women,” had met the expectations for a more subversive take on the 11.5-inch Mattel phenomenon. They thought Gerwig’s script, which she collaborated on with her partner, Noah Baumbach, succeeded in acknowledging the criticisms that the Barbie brand has received over the years — including unrealistic representations of women’s bodies and, up until recent years, a lack of diversity in its collection — while presenting a comedy that leans into the delightful weirdness of the Barbie universe. Others felt that the director did not go far enough in dinging her corporate sponsors, keeping the critiques of consumerism and female beauty standards at surface level.

Critics tended to be unified in their praise of the movie’s stars, however, celebrating Margot Robbie’s surprising emotional depth as the so-called stereotypical Barbie who embarks on an eye-opening journey outside of the meticulously manufactured dolls’ world, as well as Ryan Gosling’s deadpan comedy as a Ken who delights in his discovery of the patriarchy.

Read on for some highlights.

‘Barbie’ May Be the Most Subversive Blockbuster of the 21st Century [Rolling Stone]

The movie does more than avoid delivering a two-hour commercial for Mattel, David Fear writes, suggesting that the movie could be “the most subversive blockbuster of the 21st century to date.”

“This is a saga of self-realization, filtered through both the spirit of free play and the sense that it’s not all fun and games in the real world — a doll’s story that continually drifts into the territory of ‘A Doll’s House,’” Fear writes. “This is a movie that wants to have its Dreamhouse and burn it down to the ground, too.”

We Shouldn’t Have to Grade Barbie on a Curve [Vulture]

In one of the most critical reviews of the movie’s approach to gender politics, Alison Willmore writes that “it’s not a rebuke of corporatized feminism so much as an update,” noting “a streak of defensiveness to ‘Barbie,’ as though it’s trying to anticipate and acknowledge any critiques lodged against it before they’re made.”

“To be a film fan these days is to be aware that franchises and cinematic universes and remakes and other adaptations of old IP have become black holes that swallow artists, leaving you to desperately hope they might emerge with the rare project that, even though it comes from constrictive confines, still feels like it was made by a person,” she writes. “‘Barbie’ definitely was. But the trouble with trying to sneak subversive ideas into a project so inherently compromised is that, rather than get away with something, you might just create a new way for a brand to sell itself.”

There are limits to how much dimension even Greta Gerwig can give this branded material [New York Times]

Manohla Dargis, the chief film critic for The Times, offers high praise to Gerwig as a director, writing that her “directorial command is so fluent she seems born to filmmaking,” but she asserts that the movie largely dodged the “thorny contradictions and the criticisms that cling to the doll.”

“While Gerwig does slip in a few glints of critique — as when a teenage girl accuses Barbie of promoting consumerism, shortly before she pals up with our heroine — these feel more like mere winks at the adults in the audience than anything else,” Dargis writes.

A doll’s life is richly, unexpectedly imagined by Greta Gerwig and Margot Robbie [The Chicago Tribune]

“Any $145 million studio movie based on a doll, accessories sold separately, no doubt comes with a few restrictions,” Michael Phillips writes. “And yet this one actually feels spontaneous, and fun.” Giving the film 3.5 starts out of 4, he contends that Mattel “could have played things far more safely” and that “a lot of the biggest laughs in ‘Barbie’ come at Mattel’s expense.”

Ryan Gosling is plastic fantastic in ragged doll comedy [The Guardian]

Peter Bradshaw was among the critics who felt that Gosling steals the show with Barbie herself reduced to the “bland comic foil.” He was in the more cynical camp of reviewers when it came to the film’s self-awareness, calling the film “entertaining and amiable, but with a softcore pulling of punches: lightly ironised, celebratory nostalgia for a toy that still exists right now.”

Welcome to Greta Gerwig’s fiercely funny, feminist Dreamhouse [Entertainment Weekly]

Describing the movie as “packed with winking one-liners,” Devan Coggan acknowledges the praise of Gosling but contends that Robbie “remains the real star.”

“Physically, the blonde Australian actress already looks like she stepped out of a Mattel box (something the film itself plays on during one particular gag), but she gives an impressively transformative performance,” she writes, “moving her arms and joints like they’re actually made of plastic. Robbie has brought a manic physicality to previous films including ‘Babylon’ and ‘Birds of Prey,’ but she now embraces physical comedy to the max.”

Greta Gerwig’s World of Plastic Is Fantastic [Collider]

Ross Bonaime writes that “Barbie” could have been “little more than a toy ad,” but it instead became an “existential look at the difficulties of being a woman, the terrifying nature of life in general, the understanding that trying to be perfect is absurd, while also encapsulating everything that Barbie has meant to people — both good and bad.”

Calling Gerwig’s work behind the camera “vibrant and bold,” Bonaime also praises the narrative work of the popstar-packed soundtrack, which includes songs from Lizzo, Billie Eilish, Nicki Minaj and Ice Spice.

Margot Robbie doll-ivers [Los Angeles Times]

Describing the film as a “conceptually playful, sartorially dazzling comic fantasy,” Justin Chang suggests that “Barbie” succeeds in making the arguments both for Barbie haters and Barbie lovers.

“Gerwig has conceived ‘Barbie’ as a bubble-gum emulsion of silliness and sophistication, a picture that both promotes and deconstructs its own brand,” he writes. “It doesn’t just mean to renew the endless ‘Barbie: good or bad?’ debate. It wants to enact that debate, to vigorously argue both positions for the better part of two fast-moving, furiously multitasking hours.”


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