Floating with glee from the roof of your dream house, having feet anatomically structured so that your heels never reach the ground, showering with no water, and swimming in a plastic ocean. This is what a regular day consists of in Barbieland. Well… all that AND over-the-top dance parties every night, just to seal the deal so to speak.
You’ve all seen the trailer and know how the general plot goes. Margot Robbie’s “Stereotypical Barbie” is used to always being perfect. One day she wakes up and starts feeling… flawed. She goes to see “Weird Barbie” (Kate McKinnon) who insists she travel to “The Real World” for answers. She and a very needy Ken (Ryan Gosling) journey to Los Angeles only to discover it’s far from what they’ve imagined. Of course, there are themes about feminism and the importance of self-value and individuality which all contribute as topics of discussion in regard to Barbie’s legacy.
As excited as I was to see Barbie, I suspected it would be an educational film about the topics it deals with but what I saw was more a celebration of them. A celebration of a kind of feminism that doesn’t really exist in our society but rather deep within our minds of what we know to be of fair and equal value. There are actually quite a few things I didn’t expect to hear mentioned in Barbie and was delighted to listen to them. Particularly about perfection vs the idea of perfection.
Barbie’s creator Ruth Handler (Rhea Perlman) makes a couple of appearances and her contribution is crucial. “Humans only have one ending,” she says kindly. “Ideas live forever”. Barbie may have started off as an idea to be created but Ruth saw the potential of an idea that inspires. Barbie isn’t even a century old, yet she feels as though she’s been here forever, inspiring millions of people in countless ways. Barbie is an icon who is so easy to love but also such an easy icon to misinterpret.
She has this flawless effortless perfection to her that so many can’t live up to. People aren’t perfect, so when they seem to be, we can’t relate to them and often respond to this by lashing out. Young high school student Sasha (Ariana Greenblatt) refers to Barbie as “A bimbo” while her mother Gloria (America Ferrera) works at Mattel under the eye (That doesn’t acknowledge her) of a ridiculous CEO (Will Ferrell) who is hell-bent on getting Barbie back to Barbieland and keeping her there, even if he has to go there himself.
Barbie goes back to Barbieland with Sasha and Gloria only to find it turned into a Ken Patriarchy as Gosling’s Ken learned about gender oppression in the real world and clearly doesn’t understand what it means. A part of him finds a thrill in Barbieland’s new disruption as he’s tired of being romantically ignored by Barbie and being just a token to her (Sort of how women have been tokens for men throughout history. hmmm).
Naturally, everything resolves itself and lots of lessons are learned but the biggest thing I took away from Barbie is how passionate its plea is to audiences that there are truly multiple ways of being a feminist. The idea that women who identify with more traditionally feminine traits don’t take feminism seriously has been harmful to the feminist cause for years and continues to be so to this day.
This also applies to sexualization. It’s always been acceptable in society for men to sexualize women but when women present themselves in similar clothes, mannerisms, etc., they’re called “Bimbos, Vapid, or Unrealistic”. It’s as though being taken seriously is a privilege and if your personality or looks don’t fall in line with the traditional image of a feminist, you're seen as “a woman who’s “Relinquished that privilege.” Reese Witherspoon tried to get this point across all the way back in 2001 when Legally Blonde hit theaters. The fact this is still even an issue or a topic of debate just shows how far there still is to go.
I remember just last year watching the Knives Out sequel “Glass Onion” (courtesy of Netflix) in which Janelle Monae’s character is walking alongside a young, attractive 20-something-year-old girl in a white bikini named Whisky. Whisky is talking about how her loser right-wing boyfriend is putting her on his ridiculous youtube series more often but that she’s not sure about it because she thinks she might want to enter politics one day. The female family member I watched it with responded to this with laughter. That memory just says everything. For a woman to be taken seriously as a feminist (let alone enter politics), she can’t look or dress like Whisky. She has to dress more “Appropriately”, speak calmer, and not be so youthfully passionate.
In order for women to be their true selves in some areas, they have to sacrifice parts of themselves in other areas. By sacrifice, I mean giving up entirely. Since the dawn of time, this has been a reality and Barbie really dives into this. Some of the monologues may come across as something we’ve heard before but only in certain contexts. The hope of Barbie is for feminism to apply in multiple areas within multiple people.
Don’t misunderstand. I don’t believe in individuals treating feminism as though it’s a “genie in a bottle” or doing bad things or even believing in bad things and saying “That’s feminism.” For example, I would never take anyone (women or men) seriously as a feminist who isn’t pro-choice, even if everything else they have to say is true. I’ll know it’s true but I won’t want to hear it from them.
I do think there’s something to be said about WHO you hear speaking the truth. The truth in it of itself just isn’t enough anymore. Some parts of feminism are bound to be uncomfortable but if people embrace them, we would all see how empowering it is and that’s ultimately what everyone wants: To feel empowered. To feel important. To feel that you matter.
Robbie’s performance is truly sentimental as her being the ideal choice for the role is not sexualized here but rather serves as a memory of many people’s childhoods. Perhaps not all of us played with Barbies as children but many people who say they didn’t are lying. Gosling is the comedy scene stealer, McKinnon is classic comedy gold, Will Ferrell is “every role he’s ever done here” and Helen Mirren is the wise elegant voice of reason as the narrator.
The production design has an Oscar coming it's way. Barbieland and all the dream houses look so PLASTIC but not in a saddening environmentally damaging way. More of a childhood escape kind of way. The houses have no walls and everyone can see everyone doing everything. None of this would be possible without writer/director Greta Gerwig’s bold new vision. I don’t think she appears as a Barbie in the film but her spirit is so present in the atmosphere and all the details, I could’ve sworn I’d seen her appear somewhere.
Of course, the most attractable attribution is this: Barbie is lightheartedly pleasurable. It feels shorter than it is because the enjoyment begins immediately and contains enough laughs and lessons for every audience. Has Margot Robbie (Along with Greta Gerwig and Oppenhimer’s Cillian Murphy and Christopher Nolan) just saved what may be the last blockbuster encounter for god knows how long?
They’ll do it again one day.
Formist. (2023). Barbie Poster 2023 Movie Posters Bedroom Decor Silk Canvas for Bedroom Wall Art Print Gift Home Decor Unframe Poster 16x24inch 40x60cm. Retrieved July 25, 2023, from https://www.amazon.ca/Posters-Bedroom-Unframe-16x24inch-40x60cm/dp/B0C23XTT1N.