The lighter half of Barbenheimer weekend, Barbie brings all the fun, summer sparkle we’ve been waiting for. Stereotypical Barbie (Margot Robbie) wakes up one day to find herself malfunctioning. Learning that she can only fix herself by journeying to the real world to meet the girl who is playing with her, Barbie sets out on an adventure with her devoted beau Ken (Ryan Gosling). Barbie meets jaded teenager Sasha (Ariana Greenblatt) and her mother Gloria (America Fererra), and Ken discovers “patriarchy.” The result is a riotously hilarious examination of male and female stereotypes.
This article is an opinion piece. The viewpoints expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect the opinions and viewpoints of Evie Magazine.
The film really succeeds in bringing to life Mattel’s plastic, imaginary Barbie world with stunning sets and exquisite costumes drawn from Barbie’s history. It paints an accurate depiction of the Mattel world – which includes the company’s support for the transgender movement and for gender-neutral Barbies in the presence of trans actor Hari Nef as one of the Barbies.
But there’s more to this Barbie than “planned choreography and a bespoke song.” Screenwriters Greta Gerwig and Noah Baumbach have crafted a delightful social satire geared toward adults that pokes fun at feminists and misogynists alike. And as the cracks within Barbieland become more evident, the film asks us to rethink what the deepest desires of a woman’s heart truly are.
*This Barbie is about to give major spoilers*
Barbie World Is a Visual Feast of Color and Superb Design
Barbies were never my favorite toy when I was a little girl, but watching this movie I finally understood how exciting Barbie’s Dreamhouse is. The world created in Barbie is meticulously faithful to the Mattel toy and all its accessories. All the small details of Barbie playtime are there: Barbies float down from their roofs, take imaginary showers, and when they drink, there’s nothing in the glass.
Something I loved about the Barbie movie is that it is comfortable just being fun in the way that playing with Barbies has been fun for generations of girls. At the end of Barbie’s perfect first day in the film, she invites all the Barbies to her place for a dazzling dance that would have Gene Kelly itching his toes. From Dua Lipa’s perfect “bespoke song” to Robbie’s stunning gold disco jumpsuit, the scene is the old-fashioned dance sequence we don’t often get to see outside of musicals.
Capturing Barbie’s wardrobe was critical because “Barbie really is interlinked with fashion…how you play with her is by dressing her,” says costume designer Jacqueline Durran. A two-time Oscar winner and arguably the greatest living film costume designer, Durran is in rare form in Barbie. Drawing heavily from the history of Barbie outfits, such as Barbie’s classic 1959 black and white one-piece bathing suit, Durran “riffed off the idea of a French Riviera beach in the early 1960s” for Barbieland’s costume color palette.
And above all, pink – so much pink that the production caused a shortage of fluorescent fuschia paint worldwide. But not every shade of pink is in the bright fuschia of Barbieland. Gloria, the lonely mother who draws Barbie into the real world, sits behind her desk wearing a pair of pink sneakers – a quiet rebellion in her routine world. She’s caught between the dark shades of everyday life and the bright, imaginative life she draws pictures of.
The film’s joyful celebration of femininity and Barbie playtime is best expressed in Lizzo’s fun pop number “Pink,” which plays twice in the film. “Pink goes with everything / Beautiful, from head to toe, I’m ready to go,” read the lyrics, “We like other colors, but pink just looks so good on us.” It’s a power anthem for the girls who like to dress up, which glories in a woman’s desire to be beautiful.
Barbie’s World without “Patriarchy” Isn’t Perfect – It’s Just a World without Children
“Barbie has a perfect day every day,” says Helen Mirren’s narrator, “But Ken only has a perfect day if Barbie looks at him.” It becomes clear that roles are wildly reversed in Barbieland. Women hold all positions of power, and the Ken dolls exist to praise and support them. It’s the feminist utopia, right?
I found it very interesting that this world without patriarchy, the so-called utopia of Barbieland, is also a world without children. There aren’t any young or old people in Barbieland, and the pregnant doll Midge “got discontinued because a pregnant doll is just too weird.” The running gag of Midge’s presence is a perpetual reminder that a Barbie can be anything – unless what she wants to be is a mother.
The point of most utopia stories is to reveal why a form of society isn’t perfect, and Barbie is no exception. Barbie first learns the insufficiency of Barbieland when she sits on a park bench in the real world and observes ordinary people living their lives (a scene which director Gerwig had to fight the studio to keep). Children play on the swings, a couple argues, two friends laugh, and an old woman (legendary costume designer Ann Roth) reads a newspaper. “You’re so beautiful,” Barbie says with a single, momentous tear. It’s her first glimpse of the scary and beautiful thing that is real life.
Robbie’s performance in this film is nothing short of extraordinary. Imitating the doll’s stylized movements, she plays Stereotypical Barbie with familiar charm and nuanced feeling. She brings Barbie’s sensitivity and vulnerability to life with an impressive mastery.
The truth about Barbieland is that it is just as flawed as the human world, in part because it’s a world where pregnant Midge doesn’t have a place. Just because girls run the world doesn’t mean it will be a better place. And it makes a powerful statement, given that women do rule the world there, that Barbie chooses to leave and become human at the end of the film.
The film’s final scene, between Barbie and her creator Ruth Handler, is its most moving and thought-provoking. I truly don’t want to spoil this part, but I’ll say that there’s a parallel between motherhood and creation here, and that Barbie finally learns “what she was made for” (in the words of Billie Eilish’s lilting ballad, which I am seriously obsessed with). The film boldly embraces Barbie’s transition to human with her final stop of the film – her gynecologist’s office.
Barbie Satirizes Both Misogynists and Radical Feminists
Barbie may be the first real comedy I’ve seen in a while. The humor is hyperbolic and satirical, poking fun at men and women alike for our faults and foibles. The film even breaks the fourth wall at times to maintain its absurdity.
The Mattel company, whose stock prices quadrupled in anticipation of the film, is the butt of many of the film’s biggest laugh moments. Comedy giant Will Ferrell brings his signature style to the role of a hapless Mattel CEO, giving the role a larger comedic presence than its lines alone.
The Gerwig/Baumbach creative partnership has tackled modern satire before in White Noise, 2022’s superb sendup of modern culture that appears to poke fun at the world’s response to Covid and the modern world’s aversion to more natural ways of living. Amplifying our absurdities so we can laugh at them and learn to live differently is this creative partnership’s specialty.
Barbie’s satire takes on the pendulum extremes our culture can’t seem to shake: misogyny and radical feminism. We live in a world where Amy Schumer drops out of the Barbie film because it's not feminist enough, but when that film is released men think they have the right to call its star Margot Robbie “mid” online. For those of us who want to live somewhere in the middle of these two extremes, Barbie is a breath of fresh air.
Barbie dolls have a tempestuous history of being a toy meant almost solely for girls, which is somehow not feminist enough. The Barbie film uses this history to raise important questions about the role of women and men in society. By tackling both liberal feminism and misogyny, Barbie reveals the shallowness in each.
Among the film’s satirical victims is Ken, Barbie’s luckless companion. When Ken goes to the real world with Barbie and “discovers patriarchy, where men and horses rule the world,” he gets a vision of a different kind of life. Ken’s misconceived version of patriarchy looks a lot more like plain old misogyny than a patriarchy devoted to defending its women.
But when Ken finds that there is no place for him in the real world – and that, in fact, just being a man won’t get him a high-paying job or position of power – he decides to return to Barbieland to “start patriarchy fresh.” The result casts a cultish spell of novelty over the Barbies and Kens, altering their world into a frat boy’s vision of the perfect day.
Ryan Gosling pulls out the stops in bringing Ken to life, playing the misguided doll with an undercurrent of sincerity that makes his struggle more poignant. Ken is mocked for his foolishness and his insecurities, yes, but he is also given a clear reason for those insecurities.
The Kens aren’t representative of all men, but they do illustrate beta-men who shut down a woman's feminine energy. The contrast is sharpened by the presence of Allan (Michael Cera), Ken’s best friend, who is horrified at the style of “patriarchy” Ken brings back to Barbieland. Allan, who saves Gloria and her daughter from some construction workers and helps restore Barbieland to its original state, is the film’s example of a different kind of masculinity. It’s worth remembering that in the history of Barbie dolls, Allan is supposed to be the father of Midge’s children. Maybe that’s why he seems so lost throughout the film, and why he doesn’t fall for Ken’s false patriarchy.
But radical feminism doesn’t make it out of Barbie without its own scathing send-out. When Barbie first arrives in the real world, she seeks out Gloria’s daughter Sasha at school, believing she is the little girl who has been playing with her. But on her arrival, Sasha decides to “destroy Barbie” in a monologue that ridicules the doll for violating some of the chief rules of radical feminism: “You’ve been making women feel bad about themselves since you were invented.” When Sasha’s tirade ends with a cry of “You fascist,” Barbie is driven to tears.
The moment is more poignant than it is funny, and the tween’s audacity is jarring. But we’ve seen this Mean Girls style of cruelty before. “Men hate women, and women hate women,” says Sasha, and her presence in Barbie is an indictment of a world that discourages little girls from embracing their femininity.
Barbie Is Really About Greta Gerwig’s Favorite Subject: Mothers and Daughters
Just as I hoped, Barbie has brought us another Gerwig monologue for women. This time, it’s not our protagonist who delivers the words of truth – it’s lonely mother Gloria who is overcome with empathy for the disheartened Barbie. Delivered with passion and sensitivity by America Ferrera, the monologue expresses the contradictory expectations that are often asked of women. It’s one of the best parts of the film and is already trending on the internet.
In an interview with the LA Times, Ferrera says, “When I first read it, it just hit me as the truth. There’s no woman in my life who those words aren’t true for. Not a single one. So it felt like a gift.” The “cognitive dissonance” of the way we speak and think about women, especially in the context of motherhood, can be overwhelming. But giving words to the feeling is the first step to finding your way out of the woods.
Gloria’s discontent in the film stems from her fractured relationship with her daughter Sasha. The monologue proves key in restoring their relationship as Sasha learns to respect her mother. Sasha realizes her vision of womanhood is wrong, and that her creative and playful mother has a power she didn’t imagine.
It’s one of the well-chosen moments in the film when writing team Greta Gerwig and Noah Baumbach asks its audience to step outside the satire and think for a moment, about all of the pressure we put on ourselves and the conflicting roles we expect ourselves to fit into. And if you’re anything like me, you are going to want to cry and call your mom.
This Barbie may not be meant for little girls who are currently building imaginary worlds with their Barbies, but it’s an uplifting story for all the grown women who used to play with them. By exposing the shallowness of modern conversations about feminism and patriarchy, Barbie asks viewers to think more deeply about life – and have a fantastic time doing it. Barbie asks its viewers to step out of the imaginary world of stereotypes, for both men and women, and to embrace the real world.
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