Barbie – a slick subversive conversation starter
This isn’t your typical Barbie story filled with pink dresses and plastic perfection – although it has those things in spades. But, it might surprise you that the story delves into some profound themes of gender inequity, that will surely leave you pondering long after the credits roll.
First things first, Margot Robbie’s portrayal of “Stereotypical” Barbie is a game-changer. She brings a depth and complexity to the character that goes way beyond the iconic blonde-haired doll we’ve all known for 50 plus years. Barbie is not just a fashionista with a dream house in Barbie Land as we find out very quickly; she’s a modern-day woman navigating a world that isn’t always kind to women who dare to challenge societal norms.
Robbie’s wide-eyed naiveté as the film begins, transforms into a vulnerability and strength that will have audiences laughing and crying with the iconic Barbie.
Ryan Gosling’s character, Ken, plays a crucial role in exploring the other side of gender norms. Ken starts off as the quintessential accessory, who constantly needs Barbie’s approval and fights for Barbies attention with the other Kens. His lack of skills, belies his constant need for validation. However, as the film progresses, Gosling peels back the layers of Ken’s character, revealing the flaws and insecurities ingrained in his beliefs about his place in Barbie Land, which is explored comically when Barbie remarks that she is not even sure where the Kens live.
Barbie tackles head-on the issue of gender stereotypes and the unrealistic beauty standards society imposes on women. Barbie herself is reimagined not as an unattainable figure of perfection but as a woman who embraces her uniqueness and flaws, empowering others to do the same. This is only after she has an existential crisis in the female-centric world of Barbie Land and travels to the real world, with its real world expectations and views of women.
The movie doesn’t shy away from depicting the struggles women face in male-dominated spaces. The film raises awareness about the everyday battles women must endure in a world that often undermines their capabilities.
Conversely, Ken’s journey serves as a reminder that dismantling the patriarchy benefits everyone, freeing men from the constraints of toxic masculinity and encouraging them to embrace vulnerability and emotional openness.
Barbie, shares a bit of DNA with The Lego Movie and even Toy Story which similarly took toys and built a kind of existential crisis around them. While Barbie goes the live-action route, Director Greta Gerwig gets extra credit for infusing what could have been a saccharine two-dimensional romp with music and dance numbers into something that culminates into something with a substantial message for everyone.
Robbie and Gosling give standout performances, and Kate MacKinnon’s “Weird” Barbie is brilliant and who turns out to understand why Barbie needs to travel to the real world to understand what is causing her crisis of confidence.
Barbie’s secret weapon, and the actual heart of the film is Gloria, played by America Ferrera. She is losing touch with her daughter Sasha (Ariana Greenblatt) and the relationship they used to share. It’s Gloria’s fond memories of playing with Sasha and her Barbie collection which sets the story in motion and causes Barbie to have her existential crisis.
Greta Gerwig is known for putting thoughtful monologues about girlhood and womanhood in her films, and Gloria is given a monologue that the film pivots all its themes around, clocking in at almost four minutes. There’s the line within the monologue where Gloria states: “I’m just so tired of watching myself, and every single other woman, tie herself into knots so that people will like us.” It’s those words that really become the heartbeat of the film and its message.
The film should spark essential conversations about breaking free from the confines of traditional gender roles and embracing the diversity and strength that comes from true equality.
It’s the kind of film that requires multiple viewing to catch all the references and easter eggs. The fact that Barbie’s marketing campaign has taken on a life of its own on social media might have some wanting to avoid it. But there is a genuinely enjoyable movie behind the hype.
Unbox Barbie and enjoy the ride!