Barbie is one of the latest live-action-comedy feature films by Warner Bros. Pictures, based on the popular fashion dolls by Mattel. Barbie, portrayed by Margot Robbie, shares the screen with Ryan Gosling as Ken, and an ensemble cast including Issa Rae, America Ferrera, Will Ferrell and many more.
Just as Barbie never ceases to amaze with all that she can do, the movie does the same with elaborate set design, meticulous attention to prop detail and energetic dance numbers. Opening with a glimpse of Barbie’s world, it’s evident that the grass truly is greener on her side because it’s, well, artificial. The men are left to graze upon it and beach, while the women hold the ‘important’ job titles. In this matriarchal driven-society the women are doctors, lawyers and successful businesswomen. They own their own equally elaborate dream homes AND every night is girl’s night.
It is during the first dynamic display of choreography that “Stereotypical Barbie” shares a hidden fear of death, that she quickly masks as a desire of ‘dying to dance.’ Inciting the incident teased, she soon discovers that her perfectly arched feet have gone flat and her usual perfect morning routine is out of sync. She seeks the wisdom of “Weird Barbie” to find a cure – specifically for the cellulite that has appeared on her upper thigh. “Weird Barbie” informs her that Barbie must take a journey to the real world to set things back to normal. Barbie sets off and shortly after realizes a backseat stow away, Ken.
The two accidentally cause a scene – several of them, in their attempts to blend in, causing the FBI to alert the CEO of Mattel, of the real-world invasion. Barbie tries to connect with her owner, Sasha and quickly learns that not everyone loves Barbie. Sasha believes that Barbie has set unrealistic standards of beauty for real world women, and shares her feelings on the matter, leaving Barbie in tears.
The CEO of Mattel locates Barbie at Sasha’s school where her mother is picking her up alongside a Mattel employee, Gloria. He tries to get Barbie back into her box but Gloria and Sasha help her escape. They realize Gloria’s own identity crisis has collided with Barbie’s own existential crisis. As Gloria had begun playing with old toys for a bit of excitement in her life, unknowingly transferring her human concerns to Barbie. The three take the journey back to Barbie Land – where Ken has already headed back to, after being empowered by discovering the patriarchal system in the real world.
Barbie attempts to introduce the ladies to the matriarchal reality of Barbie Land, only to discover that Ken has convinced the Kens to take over. The other Barbies are no longer doctors, the president and lawyers, but have obliged to submissive roles of maids, housewives and low commitment, always agreeable girlfriends. Barbie tries to talk Ken into changing things back, but for the first time ever, he feels seen and acknowledged. This sends Barbie into a discouraging depression, melted away only by a passionate and insightful speech about society’s unrealistic expectations of women. Barbie, Gloria, Sasha, Alan and a host of other discontinued dolls work together to whisk the Barbies away one by one, re-igniting their passions with various portions of the speech. The restored Barbies pit the Kens against themselves in a beach off, causing them to miss the vote to keep Kendom or return to Barbieland.
The film simultaneously speaks to the modern world, Barbie-world and the worlds that exist only in our minds. Layered equally with laugh out loud moments and uncomplicated truths of matriarchal vs. patriarchal views, we are left feeling, it could all be so simple. Couldn’t it? Shouldn’t it?
The Independent’s Clarisse Loughrey said it best, “while it’s impossible for any studio film to be truly subversive, especially when consumer culture has caught on to the idea that self-awareness is good for business. Barbie gets away with far more than you’d think was possible.”
Barbie is a reminder that the stereotypical views, often normalized within society, leave none of the involved parties truly happy with the results. It is a beautiful balance of eye-catching, memorable set design with messaging that speaks to the core of humanity. At the core, we all want to be seen, heard, and acknowledged. We all want to make a difference, find happiness and at some point, grapple with challenges centered around identity and social status.
The standout, takeaway moment is Gloria’s monologue about the intricate complexities of being a woman. This nuanced tightrope of a walk requires the poise and delicacy of a doll, how fitting that the topic was addressed in a movie about one.
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