Barbie and Ken are having the time of their lives in the colorful and seemingly perfect world of Barbie Land. However, when they get a chance to go to the real world, they soon discover the joys and perils of living among humans.
Subversively blunt in a shocking way at times, Barbie has a really nippy pace in sections, and it trusts the viewer to get most of its jokes instead of signposting them outright. (Saying that, I could have very much done without that straight-to-the-camera didacticism; all those points had already been made so much better already.) On the other hand, there were a good number moments of longeur within other scenes that were quite sloppy: everyone in the audience, not just me, felt a little bored for 30-second snippets at a time, and it was a strange experience to be somehow bored in a 90-minute movie.
The film's humour relies heavily on the paratextual presence of Mattel: as in, "I can't believe they let Greta Gerwig get away with Ryan Gosling saying that!"). This is Barbie's strongest and weakest point: as mentioned above, it's quite literally shocking that this was made, yet there are also intrinsic limits to any humour style based entirely on pushing limits — not least of all its rewatch value. Here's hoping that Gerwig now has the clout with the studios to make some weird art film now.
What remained with me after the movie wasn’t Ken’s “mojo dojo casa house” or Barbie’s not-so-subtle girl power messaging. It was, instead, a moment that took up maybe 1 percent of the movie, and epitomized director Greta Gerwig’s strength, even in a film about plastic: authenticity. In the final minutes of the film, Gerwig included a montage of home videos, meant to show Barbie what life as a human entails — beautiful videos that were submitted by actors, crew members, and other Barbie collaborators. It’s the ultimate tribute to girlhood, and depicts women as wives, mothers, grandmothers, daughters, aunts, and friends.
— Halen Strack (National Review)
I have been thinking (or at least trying to) about the confident assertion that Barbie is an advert for the dolls. I’m not convinced this holds up, but I have been thinking (trying to) about Pauline Kael’s observation that Top Gun was not, as was claimed, an advert for the US Navy, but was more of an advert for itself. That’s more apt I think – Barbie, if it advertised anything, advertised the brands that had partnered with Mattel for a go at the glorious pink marketing funnel. I wasn’t convinced by the feminism it advertised either, but then I didn’t have to be. This was feminism as laid out by HR, a stylistic framework of vocabulary and correct interpersonal behaviour that obscures the material struggles facing women and again, how could it be anything else? It would be crass beyond all measure to try to address anything more sobering.
A group truly assured of its own power not only permits protest, but also sets the parameters for acceptable opposition, politely humouring its dissenters safe in the knowledge that they, too, will inevitably be eclipsed by the machine. […] The encroachment of corporations into film and television has also made consuming media a sort of unsatisfying postmodern detective game, in which the viewer hunts around for signs of subversive artistic intent and then ponders what particular accommodations and compromises were made, or what red lines were drawn and what got cut.
— Rebecca Liu (Another Gaze)
The counterintuitive spin that Gerwig and Baumbach have put on the iconography of Barbie — whereby the doll's predominant cultural contribution is her array of imagined career options rather than her hysterically primped and idealised form, making her a virtuous, aspirational feminist figure rather and not an oppressive stereotype — is clever, but its cleverness is in the service of smartening up an uncool brand. […] Mattel can afford to lightly mock its heritage products while still hard-selling its new ones, and permit satire of its male-dominated power structures as long as it also ensures that the Barbieland we see is conspicuously diverse. It seems a slightly nervous move on the filmmakers' part to have enlisted the American comic Will Ferrell to play the boss of Mattel. Ferrell's shtick […] is investing male archetypes with disarming, dorky energy; his practised lovability declaws whatever critique Barbie might have for its parent company, as when The Simpsons ribs the owner of its home network, Rupert Murdoch, as a "billionaire tyrant". […] Still, can't money-making franchises also take on significant political and philosophical questions? And can't they contradict themselves? They can when men make them.
— Hannah McGill (Sight and Sound)
Many critics confuse sustained self-referential teasing with a mission to stick it to the man: consider [instead that] the possibility that a real critique was never on the agenda. […] Barbie's triumphs are relative. That Gerwig managed to impress her personality on the material in evident ways, that the film exhibits a level of visual originality that feeds into its postmodern games, shouldn't feel so exceptional. In today's blockbuster landscape, it is.
— Beatrice Loayza (Sight and Sound)