Barbie interrupts a giant blowout party with all the Barbies and a planned choreography and a bespoke song with the thought, ‘Do you guys ever think about dying?’ That’s a huge deal, and the fact that Barbie’s iconic (and impossible) arch is gone and she’s standing flat on her feet and that she spotted (gasp!) cellulite on her body.
In Barbie Land, women hold positions of power and governance and they live in harmony with their male counterparts, all called Ken who exist only under the ‘warmth of a Barbie’s gaze’. The film also has cheeky additions of discontinued Mattel products, most notably Earring Magic Ken and Growing Up Skipper.
A certain Ken (Ryan Gosling) is enamoured by Stereotypical Barbie (Margot Robbie) who sees him only as a friend.
When the other Barbies of the land suggest that Stereotypical Barbie go see an almost Oracle-like figure, the Weird Barbie (Kate McKinnon), she realises that the solution to her problems is a trip to the Real World, more specifically Santa Monica. An eager-to-please Ken (Gosling) follows her and she begrudgingly agrees.
As they enter the real world, the first thing they come face-to-face with is patriarchy: while Barbie instantly begins to feel objectified and ogled at and a steady uneasiness seeps into her psyche, Ken is at the top of the world as he is absolutely fascinated by a world that is ‘run by men’. He sees patriarchy less as the oppressive system it is and more as an opportunity.
Greta Gerwig’s Barbie has the tenderness of Little Women and the unrestrained coming-of-age enthusiasm of Lady Bird. The film is self-aware and that makes it routinely funny and sometimes hilarious. It does, however, feel like the director is sometimes pulling a few punches which might be because Mattel itself is involved in the project.
As Barbie, Robbie is earnest, heartwarming, and adds just the right touch of vanity and humanity to her ‘stereotypical’ and often conformist form.
Barbie enters the Real World thinking she has changed the lives of women for the better but she is entering a space where women have been disadvantaged for centuries by patriarchy; damage that a doll that’s often been criticised for perpetuating an unrealistic body image can’t possibly think of fixing (people have often argued that the earlier Barbie proportions wouldn’t even properly house a human’s organs).
Gerwig’s Barbie is a study into the complexities of the feminist debate surrounding Barbie and how the idea of feminism extends to equity. The makers don’t posit that the Barbie World is a perfect feminist society but they portray it at least as a place that isn’t afraid of introspection.
When the Barbie model that was considered to be “perfect” by conventional beauty ideals feels ‘not pretty anymore’ after spending mere hours in the Real World, the film pushes the audience to question what that means for women who choose to not conform to the male gaze.
The real superstar in the film is Gosling as a forlorn Ken whose only wish is to be ‘Boyfriend-Girlfriend’ with Barbie. But Gerwig uses the relationship between Barbies and Kens to not only question the heteronormativity of the Barbie universe but also explore how power dynamics can come into play.
Every actor is picture perfectly cast for their roles. From lawyers to doctors to Supreme Court justices, actors Issa Rae, Alexandra Shipp, Hari Nef, Emma Mackey, Nicola Coughlan, Ritu Arya, Ana Cruz Kayne, Dua Lipa, and Sharon Rooney, bring Barbie Land alive with their renditions of the doll.
At the same time, we have Kens played by Kingsley Ben-Adir, Scott Evans, Ncuti Gatwa, John Cena, and an absolutely kitschy and suave (in the best way possible) Simu Liu with a frustrating conviction.
As people continue to claim that Barbie is "anti-men", Greta’s film is about the emancipation of the Barbie and the Ken. With gloriously pink set designs (massive props to production designer Sarah Greenwood and set decorator Katie Spencer) and song sequences touching upon iconic sequences from All That Jazz and Grease. Despite feeling like the songs sometimes go on for a tad bit too long, you can’t help but be sucked into the ostentatious glamour of Barbie’s world.
The film is so absolutely unserious and at the same time demure and understanding.
The relationship between Barbie and a human woman Gloria (a delightfully charming America Ferrera) affects the latter’s relationship with her daughter (Ariana Greenblatt) and those parallels are explored with great heart. A lot of Barbie relies on nostalgia, again a fact that it is completely aware of since it showcases it in the differing views Gloria and her daughter have about the iconic doll.
The film doesn’t shy away from poking fun at Mattel for being a large corporation focused more on profits than inclusive ideas and even features a scene of a teenager telling Barbie she ‘set back the feminist movement’.
And that is Barbie’s biggest strength.
It borrows from the basics of films like Legally Blonde (pink and success are not mutually exclusive) and the original philosophy of Barbie herself (We girls can do anything, right Barbie?) Yet, most of the critique about the way women are viewed in society doesn’t contain anything novel. As a monologue, it hits all the right points but what is new?