The new Barbie movie, written and directed by Greta Gerwig (Lady Bird, Little Women, Frances Ha), co-written by her writing and life partner, Noah Baumbach (The Squid and the Whale, Marriage Story, Frances Ha) stars Margot Robbie, Ryan Gosling, America Ferrera, Issa Rae, Helen Mirren, Rhea Perlman, Kate McKinnon, Will Ferrell, Simu Liu, and everybody else, too.
If you've seen the fantastic Netflix show, Sex Education, you'll recognize a whole pile of your favorites from there, as well (Emma Mackey- Maeve, Ncuti Gatwa- Eric, Conor Swindells- Adam). EVERYONE wanted to have something to do with this movie, and they were wise to feel that way. John Cena kinda begged for a part and ended up a merman next to Dua Lipa.
Why's it so special? Why did it kill in box office sales, the "fourth-largest weekend at the box office in the U.S. of all time?"
The film perfectly balances savvy social critique, real emotional arcs, and absurd hilarity. It's FUN to see a life-size pink plastic ambulance complete with little plastic x-rays when Ryan Gosling's Ken hurts himself when trying to surf a plastic wave. It's RIDICULOUS to see a dog-sized plastic dog that actually drops little plastic turds like the doll-sized one that actually existed. It's HYSTERICAL to see all the other failed Barbie and Ken dolls they've made over time brought to life with real life people, and that one dinged-up Barbie who smells like basement and whose hair you cut all wonky and whose face you drew on with permanent marker? That's Kate McKinnon.
The film is smart and thoughtful, and surprisingly poignant in scenes with America Ferrera (playing a human with a shitty admin assistant job at Mattel where she serves a bunch of blowhard men in suits, and is being taken for granted by her tween daughter) and Margot Robbie (playing a Barbie in an existential crisis).
So, OK, that sounds sweet and fun, what's the problem? Why are all the grumpy people trying to tank the movie's Rotten Tomatoes score? Because people always rush to defend the patriarchy when it's being criticized. The movie dances on our preconceived notions of pinkness, Barbie, and, really, of girls and women, and that gets lots of the mens and the supporters of all things mens riled up.
Barbie's unrealistic, potentially harmful, beauty standards is what we most often think about- the impossibly thin, tall, stacked (and white, abled-bodied) woman we can't actually ever be. That's fair, although, those physical attributes of Barbie are true of the original 'Stereotypical Barbie' as played by Margot Robbie, but Barbies has come in all sizes, colors, and physical abilities over the years.
In truth, the most unrealistic thing about Barbie isn't her body but the notion that women can be anything we want to be.
In Barbie Land, women are safe. Men aren't a violent threat nor are they trying to control us. Barbies don't have reproductive organs, so pregnancy isn't a risk and motherhood isn't their burden (Midge didn't sell well). Barbies are president, all the Supreme Court judges, physicists, astronauts, doctors, etc, etc...and not in a rare, minority way where they have to claw their way there or constantly prove their worth, or where their confidence a problem, but in a natural, assumed, way. The Barbies support each other and they live peacefully and thrive in harmony.
In Barbie Land, we can be anything! In the Real World, notsamuch.
And that's what Barbie learns painfully when she becomes human to go to the Real World to solve a problem. Ken also witnesses the hell scape that is the Real World and gets super psyched because he realizes that men are considered THE SHIT here where in Barbie Land, they're sidekicks.
Both Barbie and Ken go through self-discoveries. Ken's involves flooding Barbie Land in toxic masculine tropes- some funny ('brewski beers,' playing acoustic guitar 'at women,' and obsession with cowboys and horses) and others not so cute, like annexing property (Barbie's Dreamhouse becomes Ken's Mojo Dojo Casa House), and dehumanizing Barbies.
At one point, as the Barbies and the human woman and her tween daughter are taking Barbie Land back, Barbie feels guilty about 'hurting Ken,' which is to say, getting her house back and deprogramming the Barbies he and his fellow Kens brainwashed. Barbie also worries that she's lost her sparkle, her perfection (with a fourth-wall breaking voice-over delivering one of the funniest lines of the film), and America Ferrera gives the following speech, which is epic and pitch-perfect.
"It is literally impossible to be a woman.
You are very beautiful and very smart... and it breaks my soul that you think you're not good enough, like we're always supposed to be extraordinary, but somehow we're always doing it wrong.
We have to be skinny, but not too much and you must not say you want to be skinny. You must say you want a healthy weight, but also… YES you have to be skinny. You must have money, but you can’t ask for money because that would be rude. You gotta be a boss, but you can't be tough. You must lead, but you cannot crush other people’s ideas.
You’re supposed to love being a mom, but you don’t talk about your kids all the time.
You have to be a professional, but also always take care of everyone else.
You are responsible for men’s misbehavior, WHICH IS CRAZY, but if you notice that, you’re accused of being a whiner. You're expected to keep yourself pretty for men, but not so pretty you 'try them too much' or threaten other women… because you're supposed to be part of the sorority. You must always stand out and always be very grateful… but never forget the system is fixed, so find how to acknowledge it but remember to be grateful.
You must never grow old, never be rude, never show off, never be selfish, never stumble, never fail or show fear and, of course, you must never be sassy. It's very hard, it's too contradictory and nobody gives you a medal or says thank you. And it turns out, in fact, that not only are you doing everything WRONG, but also, everything that happens is YOUR FAULT. I'm tired of seeing myself and every woman doing the impossible for others to love us."
My nine-year-old says, "It's a really interesting movie, because when you think of Barbie, you don't expect the emotions that were put in the movie and the thoughts of death and romance. And Barbie can be whatever you want her to be and you can be whatever she is."
So...this movie is by, for, and about women and it's joyful! And radical! And very, very pink. All of that pisses people off, of course, and that's to be expected. Because this is the Real World, not Barbie Land. It does a phenomenal job of showing us why we loved Barbie Land as kids and why our kids still need to escape into it today.