Friday, July 21, 2023

Barbie: Movie Review

A funny and smart synopsis of Barbie in the real world vs Barbieland.
Barbie is book-ended with a history of Barbie and Mattel. Within the opening minute it gives a concise breakdown of why Barbie exists and why it become so popular: because Barbie represented a world of possibilities, girls could play pretend as anything they wanted, they were no longer confined to playing house. Over in Barbieland, all the Barbies are living their best life. Their best plastic life.   2023

Directed by: Greta Gerwig

Screenplay by: Greta Gerwig, Noah Baumbach

Starring: Margot Robbie, Ryan Gosling

All of the Barbies are everything in Barbieland: they are all perfect and smart and beautiful, they all have the job they want, and they all support one another. The Kens are an after-thought, after all the Ken doll was not created in the same vein as Barbie was. If Barbie wanted a boyfriend, she could have Ken, but otherwise no need for Ken.

The very plastic, very purposefully artificial-looking Barbieland that all the Barbies live in can get tiring. It’s an extreme aesthetic that was all over the marketing. However we quickly go from Barbie’s opening song, “Pink” by Lizzo, to Barbie’s existential crisis – what is death and why does Barbie life not go anywhere? – back to a re-mixed version of “Pink” now incorporating Barbie’s existential crisis and finally to the plot: there is a whole in the space-time continuum between Barbieland and the real world and Barbie must travel to the real world.

Barbie and Ken arriving in the real world is where the smart script comes in. Greta Gerwig and partner Noah Baumbach have found a way to represent the dichotomy of the existence of the Barbie doll – that simultaneously Barbie represents that women can be anything they want while also representing sexualized capitalism and how she created an unrealistic ideal that has pitted women against one another limiting their potential. This very accurate Barbie dichotomy is intertwined with Barbie’s existential crisis. Barbieland being perfect does not mean that the real world is perfect.

Every observation in this movie is both funny and accurate and then back to funny. When Barbie and Ken in their fluorescent matching outfits are rollerblading in Venice Beach, they first encounter feelings, not yet aware of what human life is. All Barbie knows is that she senses fear and violence, all Ken knows is a feeling of admiration.

There are quite a few gender differences noted throughout Ken and Barbie’s time, most of which I don’t want to spoil, so here are just some of my favourites which really speak to how the plot builds off of these gender differences. When Barbie first experiences the fear and sadness and anxiety, her reaction is to help others. Somebody else must be feeling this and how awful for them. When Ken sees himself as a person to be admired and respected, he wants more of that.

While Barbie is off to figure out how to help other women, Ken is off to the library to learn about the patriarchy and how to use it to his advantage. The movie tackles the concept of how knowledge is power, but using said knowledge to help yourself is an abuse of power. Meanwhile Barbie is learning about the concept of empathy. The path of empathy to power is a lot longer and harder than the path of knowledge to power. And at this point we’re perfectly set-up for a showdown between the Barbies and the Kens in what has now become Kenland.

There are a lot of smart concepts that are perfectly enunciated in short scenes. Some people have said there is too much in this movie, that’s not true. Others have said it’s over simplified, and yes it is. It is overly simplified on purpose. Dolls exist because life is too complicated, being a human is exhausting and complicated and no life is the same and we have created an outlet, Barbie and Barbie’s dreamhouse, as a simplified form of what our life could be.

There are a lot of laughs, most courtesy of Ryan Gosling, and a lot of commentary on everything that is wrong in a patriarchal world – and some of it can be used as signs to identify bad boyfriends; for instance, if your Ken likes singing "Push" by Matchbox 20, look out, that song is about control. Although if it’s sung by six Kens sitting around a campfire on the beach each with a guitar and playing for their Barbie, then that’s just hilarious.

One of the Best of 2023