Okay, friends! Let’s get into BARBIE!
There will be spoilers, so if you haven’t seen it and don’t want the plot twists revealed, move along! Although I don’t think it will ruin your experience of the movie if you do know what happens: it might even enhance it. You decide.
“Barbie” is a visual FEAST! I loved the design, I squealed at the costumes and set, hair, makeup, and fun of it all. The dance numbers are bangers and the whole production is good summer fun. Margot Robbie was adorable and funny and perfect (literally), and I honestly think that Ryan Gosling should get an Oscar nomination for his work, although he won’t. Comedic roles are rarely recognized.
But “Barbie” is not the feminist statement the mainstream media and many viewers want to think it is.
I loved the pink Girl Power world of Barbieland, and I appreciated that Gerwig/Baumbach broke open the Barbie-verse to include a diversity of Barbies. Issa Rae was terrific as President Barbie, and it was wonderful to see women characters cheer each other on and to have the one celebrated respond with “thank you, I worked hard and I deserved it!” No false modesty, just big glowing smiles. We can dream, can’t we?
I was thoroughly enjoying myself until my critical radar was activated by a little blip in the screenplay and the appearance of cellulite on Barbie as she became to mesh realities with the Real World. Waitaminute. If Barbie & Co. are really existing outside of patriarchal society and do not exist for the male gaze, she (and the other horrified dolls) wouldn’t give a flip about some bumpy skin, which is associated with age. Imagine a matriarchy. Would a society of women see sagging or dimpled skin as something to be horrified by? Up to that moment in the film, I was delighted by the premise that all of the dolls were, well, dolled up in gorgeous outfits, hair, make-up and overblown aesthetic of traditional femininity because it’s PRETTY. Because we love sparkles and rainbows and pretty dresses, not because these trappings make anyone attractive to Kens/men.
That’s how I was when I played with Barbies. I had no inkling of wanting or needing male attention, I just loved make-up, wigs, puffy princess dresses and shiny shoes.
Suddenly I noticed that that, despite the diversity of Barbies in Gerwig and Baumbach’s vision, there were no old Barbies. Someone on TikTok suggested Jennifer Coolidige for the inevitable sequel, which is a brilliant idea. Why the absence of elder Barbies? Why were old women only allowed representation in the Real World? If there can be fat Barbies, another body that is rejected and reviled under patriarchal beauty standards, why no old Barbies?
They had Helen Mirren RIGHT. THERE.
But I filed that small concern away in my mind and continued to enjoy and appreciate the movie (even though I am not a fan of “Closer To Fine”). America Ferrera did a great job as Gloria, the frustrated mother of a surly tween. I loved Will Ferrell as the CEO of Mattel — his scenes were a wonderful satire of patriarchy, which is what I think Gerwig and Baumbach wanted to accomplish. Did you catch “Tooth Guy” (hilarious Jamie Demetriou) from “Fleabag” as one of his corporate minions? All the Mattel scenes were gold.
Ken’s whole bonkers discovery of patriarchy (horses!) was sly, clever and effective. The audience guffawed at his overwrought conversion but watching the Kens take down Barbieland was genuinely upsetting. I would like to acquire the screenplay and read it because I did not quite follow the plot device of the Barbies being brainwashed into pandering to the guys. I could understand how they were eventually snapped out of their bad enchantment but not at all sure how they were bamboozled into it. The scene where Kens make Barbies listen to them play guitar and sing “Push” by Matchbox 20 brought forth great howls of laughing solidarity from the many women in the audience who have suffered through similar displays of masculine ego by men trying to impress and seduce in insulting ways. It is a brilliant scene, and the movie at its very best.
Close to the end of the film, though, I thought the screenplay committed a serious betrayal of its supposed girl-power message. I have not heard one reviewer — not famous white feminist Susan Faludi — and not any of the Black women I follow on TikTok who had a lot to say about the film’s attempts at intersectionality — mention this moment, let alone hold it up to scrutiny.
Here it is:
When Barbieland has been restored to a woman-centric land and the Constitution has been restored (the Kens had a plan to OVERTHROW THE CONSTUTION, a plot point that hit too close to home for this American woman to be able to find humorous), Barbie finds the deposed Ken and apologizes to HIM.
“I’m sorry I took you for granted.”
She apologizes to the man who destroyed her home, installed a hostile government in her land, and did all of that because she was daring to live in a way that did not center his desires and needs (particularly for a romantic relationship with her).
This film teaches girls to apologize to their male oppressors. Note that. This is not a feminist film. Nor is it an anti-oppressive film. White Barbie apologizing to white Ken for leading a movement that, among other things, illegally removed a Black president from office? Miss me with that, Greta and Noah. You failed at intersectionality.
I will not stop hammering home this point. According to the logic of “Barbie,” when men destroy women’s spaces because they are not centered, not mollified and not granted romantic attention and access to women’s bodies (whether plastic or not!), they’re just doing this because WOMEN WERE TAKING THEM FOR GRANTED. It’s our fault.
You can bet that as soon as the lights came up, I addressed the row of young girls who were in front of me and said, “You guys, you know that if boys get upset and hostile because you decide to focus on yourself and your girlfriends, you don’t need to APOLOGIZE TO THEM, right?” They immediately said, “YEA!! What WAS that? And the women sitting to my right and to my left chimed in, which was very gratifying. Take that, Hollywood.
What I wish Barbie had said to Ken instead of “I’m sorry.”
Ken, you need to get a life.
Ken, if I want to have Girl’s Night every night until the end of time, I will do just that. Go make your own night. I’m not interested.
I have a mixed reaction to the last scene in the movie, which was cute but also could be read as a reduction of Barbie to her new reproductive organs. Lots of ways to interpret that. I thought the scene with Rhea Perlman was over-long and took itself far too seriously and overall I think the film suffered from inconsistency of messagea and the involvement of Noah Baumbach, whose work I have always found to simmer with misogynist resentment.
Michael Cera and Simu Liu are national treasures.
Remember that comments like, “it’s JUST a MovIe, RelAx” or “YoU musT Be fUN at ParTies” are will be deleted with maximum scorn. If you don’t understand the cultural importance and influence of the medium of film, that’s not my problem.
And yes, I had a Weird Barbie. My cousins and I also made Ken and G.I. Joe into lovers. It just made sense to us.