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  • Jeff Beck

Barbie: A Visually-Striking Film Hampered by a Clunky Screenplay (Blu-ray)


The Film:


Of all the major toys of the last several decades, you would think Barbie would've been one that would've gotten a live-action movie a lot sooner than it did, especially with her creation having come over 60 years ago. However, the idea has finally come to pass, bringing with it some remarkably unexpected talent in the form of three-time Oscar nominee Greta Gerwig as director/co-writer, as well as three-time Oscar nominee Noah Baumbach as her fellow co-writer. It's certainly a tall order to deliver a movie based on a toy doll that will appeal to viewers of all ages, one that any filmmaker would find daunting, but these two have put their heads together and given it their best shot, and the result is a curious one, to say the least.


The film opens in "Barbieland," where we find Stereotypical Barbie (Margot Robbie) living her normal, everyday life among all the various types of Barbies and Kens. Her particular Ken (Ryan Gosling) is trying to get her attention as always, but never seems to get very far, with Barbie preferring to spend time with the other Barbies. One day, Barbie finds herself occupied with thoughts of death, on top of having flat feet and cellulite, causing her to visit "Weird" Barbie (Kate McKinnon), a deformed outcast who was played too hard with in the real world. She informs Barbie that she must visit this real world in order to find who's playing with her and to fix her problems. She sets off to do so, unexpectedly joined by Ken, starting them on a journey that will change everything.


As mentioned, trying to make a live-action Barbie movie presents a number of challenges for any filmmaker, with perhaps the most primary of those being the simple question: What does that world even look like? Well, as an answer, Gerwig and co. dove into decades of material to give Barbieland the very plastic-looking aesthetic that you'd expect from a world of dolls, complete with dream homes (all in pink, naturally), various iterations of both Barbie and Ken, and, of course, a multitude of flashy outfits. The production design may seem a tad gaudy and over-the-top, but would you expect anything less for a project as peculiar as this?


Another one of those challenges comes in the portrayal of the leads, an intriguing challenge that both Margot Robbie and Ryan Gosling (both multiple Oscar nominees as well) were up to. Robbie and Gosling give their respective dolls just the right touch of naivete, which transforms as their characters go along on their journey, a journey that does indeed cause some big changes within both of them. Leave it to talented actors like this to breathe life into characters that most know simply as emotionless, inanimate toys.


The look and the performances are one thing, but what ends up being the single biggest challenge of all is how to put it all together into a compelling storyline that will entertain and delight audiences, without making the film seem like one big ad for the titular doll. They nailed the production design, and the cast admirably gives it their all, but sadly the story is where the film starts to show a few cracks.


For starters, much of it feels rather half-baked, as if it kind of rushes forward without really trying to explain anything. Sure, it may seem a bit silly to be saying that about a Barbie movie, but in doing so, it gives the film a very clunky, disjointed feeling. Clearly Gerwig & Baumbach had some interesting ideas they wanted to squeeze in there, and it does indeed have inspired moments of intriguing, striking commentary, but it ultimately feels like it was embedded in a story that didn't have quite enough thought put into it, with parts that just weren't developed enough, and others that felt completely superfluous (like Will Ferrell's CEO character).


The writing has always been the most important part of any movie, for it provides the foundation upon which everything else is built. The sets, costumes, and cast may all be top-notch, but without a solid storyline to tie it all together, it just won't have the desired impact. That being said, "Barbie" is hardly a bad movie. It certainly has lots of great elements to it, including all those mentioned above. Gerwig & Baumbach just needed to do another draft or two of the script to really flesh this story out and give it more substance, so as to give their intriguing commentary a better home, and thereby giving the film the impact it should've had. It was definitely a valiant effort, but it just goes to show that in the world of film, writing remains key.


Video/Audio:


"Barbie" comes to Blu-ray in a 2.00:1, 1080p transfer of outstanding quality. The image is beautifully sharp throughout, highlighting all of the hard work that went into the film's remarkable sets and costumes. Likewise, the Dolby Atmos-TrueHD audio track is fantastic, giving you all of the dialogue and music in excellent quality. Overall, the film has received great treatment in both areas for its debut physical release.


Special Features:


It's a Weird World (5 Minutes)

All-Star Barbie Party (5 Minutes)

Musical Make-Believe (9 Minutes)

Becoming Barbie (6 Minutes)

Welcome to Barbie Land (12 Minutes)

Playing Dress-Up (7 Minutes)


This is a decent collection of featurettes, delving into the intriguing elements that make up this world, including the sets, costumes, and cast.


Conclusion:


Greta Gerwig's "Barbie" boasts impressive production design, costumes, and a pair of leads up to the task of bringing their respective dolls to life, but sadly comes up a little short when it comes to its screenplay, which does feature sporadic moments of intriguing commentary, but which ultimately presents a story that's a little too clunky, muddled, and half-baked to leave much of an impact.


Score: 3/5


Available on Blu-ray starting tomorrow.


Follow me on Twitter @BeckFilmCritic.



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