It was back in 2009 when a live-action Barbie film first entered development. The project was initially passed from studio to studio and worked its way through almost as many writers and directors as its subject has accrued outfits since the popular doll first landed on toyshop shelves in 1959.
The delay also meant that UAE audiences missed the opportunity to join in with the Barbenheimer hype that captivated global audiences (and headline writers) when the film opened opposite Christopher Nolan’s Oppenheimer in many markets in July.
Thanks to the internet, however, local audiences are unlikely to have missed out on the cultural phenomenon it has become since. From critics hailing Barbie as a watershed moment in feminist filmmaking to alt-right commentators condemning it as an exercise in woke misandry, there has been an improbable amount of cultural capital expended on what is ostensibly a film about a nine-inch plastic clothes horse.
With that in mind – and considering that anyone with access to social media won’t have been able to avoid these raging debates over the last couple of weeks – it seems appropriate to ask now, as Barbie lands in the UAE this week, if this is a film you might actually want to see.
The answer is a resounding “yes”. Gerwig’s pacey direction of her own co-written script delivers 114 minutes of neon-pink absurdity, big musical numbers, genuine belly laughs and sly, self-aware digs at popular culture.
In the film, Barbieland’s utopian matriarchal existence is threatened when Margot Robbie’s Stereotypical Barbie undergoes an uncharacteristic existential crisis. She becomes haunted by constant thoughts of her own creeping mortality. And if that's not awful enough, she also develops flat feet and cellulite.
Barbie and ever-loyal beau Ken (Gosling) are then forced to cross into the real world to repair the rip in the space/time continuum that threatens their idyllic existence. The multiverse even extends to dolls it seems.
And Gerwig doesn’t stop lampooning pop culture there. She takes a jab at everything from The Godfather to The Matrix, 2001: A Space Odyssey and Zack Snyder’s obsessive fan base along with their peculiarly male-skewing demographic.
Gerwig also sticks it to Barbie manufacturer Mattel in the form of a bumbling boss played by Will Ferrell – who proudly informs us Mattel had a woman chief executive “in the nineties” – and his equally incompetent, all-male board set about trying to put Barbie “back in her box” upon her arrival in the real world.
For Ken, meanwhile, the trip to the real world opens his eyes to a society where men can be more than just objects, and our two leads are both set adrift from the moorings that have underpinned their entire existence in Barbieland, with potentially disastrous results.
Will Barbie overthrow patriarchal capitalism through skilful use of satire and role reversal? No.
Will it have you laughing out loud, and genuinely pleased you dedicated a couple of hours to what should be vacuous popcorn fare? Absolutely.
Barbie has plenty of valid comments to make about society at large and gender roles in particular. But it’s also an awful lot of fun.
Barbie will be released in the UAE on Thursday