Movie Review TagIn terms of hype, we can’t remember anything nearly as relentless and rampant as pop culture’s pink plunge leading up to the Barbie movie’s release this past weekend. For the past several months, the Barbonanza made the world acutely aware of the film, its stars, and its intent to challenge the stereotypes that critics of Mattel and its iconic blonde doll have been accused of promoting (namely, unrealistic beauty standards) for decades.

Now that the numbers are in, the oversaturation clearly paid off at the box office, and it’s a historic triumph for female directors. But the girlie, glam, giggly glut of promo, pop-ups and product tie-ins, ultimately muddle the message the film’s going for. Barbie tries to have its pastel cupcakes and eat them too, as a vehicle for colorful escape, as a cultural commentary and as a meta-spin on product placement. It nearly succeeds with moments of empowerment shining as bright as the pearly white smiles of stars Margot Robbie (as “stereotypical” Barbie) and Ryan Gosling (as her not so beloved “boyfriend” Ken). Nearly.

It’s a movie about dolls… it’s not that deep. If only this statement were true, we might have been able to enjoy the film for its fantasy feel, production value and attention to Barbie brand history. But while there are shades of Toy Story-like nostalgia and childhood memory-fueled warmth, writer/director Greta Gerwig and co-writer husband Noah Baumbach (White Noise) have bigger mermaids to fry. By the way, the Sea Barbies are played by Dua Lipa and John Cena in cute cameos.

Barbie is a focused and fierce skewering of the patriarchal world we all live in and it’s one that any woman will understand and relate to. Women cannot have it all and when we come close, it’s because of sweat and sacrifice and subjecting ourselves to sub-par treatment, on the streets, in the workplace and even at home. Nothing new, and we must note here that the anti-woke backlash to the film is as ridiculous as it is predictable.

Barb experiences none of the problems us flesh and blood females do– she has perfect beauty, fun friends, a “dream” house, gorgeous clothes and a BF who adores her. In Barbieland the female dolls rule everything and the Kens are just there for them, when wanted. Then suddenly she starts to think about death. This existential crisis is explained by “weird Barbie,” the doll whose owner abused her and made her ugly with scissors and ballpoint pens (Kate McKinnon). Barbie learns that the kid playing with her in the real world is projecting her angst –like fear of dying and worse, cellulite– onto her. Now she can’t go back to blissful ignorance, even if she wants to. She must take the Blue Pill aka “the Birkenstock” and face reality with a trip to the human realm. But it’s not really clear what she thinks will happen when she gets here.

Ken joins against her wishes and the pair head to –where else?– L.A. where everybody is rude,  judge-y and shallow. The portrayal of Los Angeles, Venice Beach and Century City is pretty shameful for a film that seeks to poke at stereotypes– not to mention a big-budget Hollywood film, SAG and WGA strikes not withstanding. Mattel and its CEO (Will Farrell) are the villains here, and viewers will surely wonder about early conversations concerning tone and narrative, and what led to settling on this storyline. Obviously, Mattel was OK with a little self-critique in exchange for the aforementioned branding opportunities.

Gosling’s Ken is not very bright so he takes everything he sees of gender dynamics on earth at face value: men rule in the real world, and somehow it involves horses, too. He brings what he learns back to Barbieland and makes some changes, while Barbie finds the source of her woes in a mother and daughter duo (America Ferrera and Ariana Greeblatt), grappling with varied stages of womanhood, boredom, growing up/old and their own relationship. The pair deliver the two most dramatic sermons of the film, and Ferrera’s in particular (which concerns the pressures women deal with daily) has reportedly been getting applause in theaters. We found it kind of cringey– not because it wasn’t true, but because the speech was told to “toy women” and was used as a device to “un-brainwash” them from living subservient lives to the male-gendered dolls who took over the land. And the plan to get the female dolls back their rightful power? Pit the Kens against each other by making them jealous. Is this misguided takedown of toxic masculinity and competitiveness really the best plot pivot the writers could come up with?

Barbie is an ambitious film and it has a lot going for it. Its use of mixed media, set design, costume and a diverse, top-notch cast (in particular– Issa Rae, Hari Nef, Simu Liu and Helen Mirren as the narrator stand out) make it feel fresh, even if the familiar shticks of Farrell and Michael Cera (as an awkward -of course- discontinued doll named Alan) don’t. The writing is clever, if self-consciously so,  but by the last act, it feels like all the accessories have been played with.

Things end with an attempt to bring Barbie’s origin story full-circle, but the transition is clunky, and it suggests this was just supposed to be a Legally Blonde-style take on the Pinnochio tale all along.  The smart satirical statements about women and society are ultimately diminished for comedy and closure’s sake, and what’s left is a marketing vehicle for the company who aren’t really the bad guys after all. But as with the likelihood of the movie’s all-Barbie Supreme Court or Barbie astronaut rocking pink stilettos on the moon, it was probably unrealistic to expect more.






































































































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