Writer/director Greta Gerwig isn’t done with plumbing the psychology of little women, setting the sly subject of her brilliantly subversive new work as a personified plaything who’s awakening into the reality of contemporary life. The witty auteur has crafted a loving tribute to those who create, those who play and those who simply grind into the trials of daily life in the eccentric, existential and exuberant Barbie (A). Packing everything she can about the highs, lows, choices and challenges of womanhood into an efficient fish out of water comedy, Gerwig fashions a droll and dreamy doll’s house, a mythology in miniature and a cultural touchpoint that’s so much more than its pristine plastic surface might promise. Much credit goes to graceful physical comedienne Margot Robbie as the title protagonist, discovering empowerment and empathy with support from a mighty female ecosystem. America Ferrera and Rhea Perlman are formidable standouts in the cast who instill wonder and wisdom along Barbie’s journey of self-actualization. As comic relief and a character gaining an agency of his own kind, Ryan Gosling is a hoot as Ken; he’s certainly the source of some of the greatest belly laughs evoked from a character with washboard abs. The production design, costumes and music are exquisite in this candy-colored universe made even more bountiful by the words of Gerwig and Noah Baumbach’s observational and deeply meta screenplay. It’s a testament to Gerwig’s love of her subject that she can get away with in-jokes at the expense of her Mattel producers and evoke both nostalgia and a forward-looking vision all at once. The emotional undercurrent of the protagonist’s growing awareness about how the world works is something few will see coming; the sentiment is real and earned. This brainy modern classic is more than meets the eyes and will be studied for years to come.
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