‘Barbie’ or Barbie is in Our World to Point Out Our Bogus Labels

Any follower of my content will know I’m a big fan of Barbie as a brand and cultural icon and an ambassador of womanhood. We as a culture too often diminish anything made to please women and prop up challenges to traditional femineity like the  girl bosses and action heroes as the only way that is valid to behave and act. I certainly want to see the bold striking woman but I also want to leave space for softness, love and the power of female friendship. As such I have reviewed over 30 of the animated Barbie movies on my youtube channel and have found them in almost every case to be delightful romps that try way harder than they need to:

Now we have a Barbie’s first live action film entitled Barbie directed by Greta Gerwig and written by herself and her partner Noah Baumbach. I’ve really enjoyed Gerwig’s work in the past including Little Women, Lady Bird and as an actor in the underrated Maggie’s Plan from 2016. With such a talented behind the camera I felt assured it could be more than just a toy commercial but I also approached the project with trepidation that it would be too hard on Barbie and be one more item in pop-culture that hates traditional femineity.

Fortunately my fears were mostly unfounded and Gerwig has given us a movie with Barbie that’s funny and has a subtle but needed message about recognizing the humanity in us all instead of resorting to easy labels. If anything it’s as much a critique of modern feminism as it is of Barbie and all she stands for.

That’s not to imply the movie is flawless. It definitely has problems- mainly its overwrought screenplay makes the viewer have to dig to find the meaning and some ideas can feel muddled or obfuscated in the search for laughs. Still I appreciate it’s a movie that got me thinking long after I saw it and made me anxious to see it again for more insight into particular scenes.

What’s most interesting is the film starts out with Margot Robbie’s Barbie thinking they have made a utopian society where women can be anything or do anything they want. But what she doesn’t realize is this is still a corporate version of utopia made by Mattel to sell more toys. When her real life owner (America Ferrara) becomes sad all the sudden Barbie becomes sad and starts wondering about death and her role in the world.

Ken played by Ryan Gosling is also becoming confused about his role where he is given nothing to do except to be there for Barbie and be ‘Beach’ all day. Gosling and Robbie are really wonderful in their roles and the production design/world building are a delight to watch. There are also tons of Easter eggs and nods that any Barbie fan will pick up on.

What I really appreciated in Barbie, however, was the lessons Barbie learns in her journey into the real world. Some have said the messaging is too heavy-handed, but they are missing the whole point with this critique. All of the easy answers to solving both Barbie and Ken’s existential dread do not work and only make everything worse. This includes both the patriarchy for Ken and the feminist discourse against the patriarchy for Barbie. We also see this at the beginning when the teenage girl Sasha calls Barbie a fascist despite not knowing her at all or understanding anything about her. Such labels and easy answers are not helpful- even if they sell more Barbies or make soundbite pundits feel better about how they manipulate the world with their supposed insight.

No, in the end, Barbie is about actually taking the time to listen to our fellow humans. Whether they be a Barbie or a Ken, understanding their humanity and resisting easy corporate and political answers is fundamental to a happy society (not just a superficially happy society we see at the beginning of the movie but genuine deeply felt happiness. The kind that makes life worth living.) It’s really quite hopeful and the reason why both Ferrara’s speech about what is expected of women and Ken’s speech about how little is expected of men are so impactful. It’s all BS and we know it but it’s easier to dismiss someone by invoking patriarchy or calling them a fascist than to actually deal with their complicated humanity as individuals. It needs to stop and who would have thought a movie about a plastic doll would provide this important call to action?

Actually I did because I’ve long believed in the power of Barbie. I’m just glad Gerwig did too. Plus, let’s not forget the movie is a lot of fun with bright colors and catchy songs. It may not be for little kids (which is a shame. I would like to see a Barbie movie for children in the theaters not just direct to dvd) but for mature tweens and teens it should start a lot of wonderful discussions and be a positive experience for all open to one of the most fun yet experimental films I’ve seen in a long time. A wonderful piece of pink cinema.

8 out of 10

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