June 19, 2024

A Less Political ‘Barbie’ Movie Would Have Been Better, And More Effective

There is a great view in the new Barbie a film where Ken (Ryan Gosling) and his fellow Kens sit on the beach playing Matchbox Twenty’s Press to impress the Barbies in their new male-dominated world order. It’s funny, not only because of the arrangement, but because the song is about an emotionally abused girl.

It is quite certain that the vast majority of moviegoers who see this film will not know what that particular song is about. The song was controversial even when it came out, in 1997, as a big hit for the band. Feminist groups were outraged at the time, claiming the song was about domestic violence and the abuse of women. Lead singer Rob Thomas clarified that the song was actually about emotional abuse, and was sung from the perspective of the abusive girl, but it did little to quell the backlash.

There really is a lot to unpack here. Was the song chosen because it was something that made feminists very sad in the 90s? Or was it chosen because of the Barbie movie, Barbie (Margot Robbie) really kind of offensive jerk to Ken? Does it work on different levels? Are we supposed to think about it, and write thoughts about it, as I am doing right this very second???

Whatever the case, I love the song choice precisely because it makes me ask these questions. I was in a band in the 90’s when I was in high school where I wrote all the songs and was the lead singer and we were compared, in the school newspaper, to Matchbox Twenty, which I found at the time to be really deadly. I was not a fan. Now, twenty or thirty years later, I sing their songs whenever I hear them (which, because I’m old, is sometimes on the radio!)

The rest of the movie is definitely exciting too, but Barbie who suffer most from his heavy hand. I’m all for a feminist version of the famous doll, and I think Greta Gerwig is very smart and often very funny when dealing with these issues, but I also think the movie hammers the point home a little too hard at times. Its biggest weakness is its overt political message, which would be far better served as a subtle, carefully placed suggestion in the viewer’s mind rather than a bright pink billboard dominating the skyline.

You can mine Barbie review here. What did you think of the film?

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