I didn’t understand going in either of a feminist penis Barbie was going to be. Maybe I shouldn’t be surprised: This is a movie aimed at girls, after all. And while it’s a celebration of the Barbie doll, it’s also a critique of the society that has so popularized an unrealistic, idealized version of the female form.
Of course, this has increased the controversy. The film has been called “woke” by more than a few YouTubers, Fox News hosts and various other cultural critics who have washed their mouths out with soap after the word ‘feminist.’ I think that the reactions are overblown, even if the film certainly does not shy away from the themes of girl power.
For one thing, it’s very funny. Gosling is adorable. There’s a beach joke that’s funny enough on its own, but it pays off later during an epic beach battle that turns, dazzlingly, into a laugh-out-loud dance.
I love Robbie and she is perfect as Stereotypical Barbie, but Gosling steals every scene.
The ribald humor is clever enough to please older audiences while flying over the heads of younger viewers. It’s a bit of it The movie LEGO movie and a little of it Across the Spidiel-Rann and there’s a lot of fourth-wall-breaking and a lot of subtle sex jokes that even, at times, feel a little Shakespearean.
While this is definitely a “down with the patriarchy” movie, it’s smart enough not to dismiss the matriarchy either. In Barbieland, women are in complete control. They rule the Supreme Court, the Pink House, all the best stuff. Every night is girls night. The men are second class citizens – for example the Kens (and Alan – played by a great Michael Cera at his own epic fight scene). When Barbie is asked where the Kens sleep, she isn’t even sure. All the houses belong to women.
When Ken and Barbie go to the real world and Ken sees how men are best treated there, he brings the patriarchy back to Barbieland with him, liberating men with his books and ideas (even if those books and ideas are focused on horses, cars and “brewksi beers” – oh, and Ryan Gosling takes on the Matchbox Twenty song “Push” which is both funny and quite good!)
Gosling, a national treasure.
One thing that I think really stood out to me—and I’m often a critic of “too-woke” politics that have been unnecessarily injected into various movies and shows—is that this really felt like an authentic, affectionate critique of how men and women treat each other. Ken’s love for the patriarchy is liberating! He may use it to do bad things, but his motives are not terrible, and we sympathize with him throughout. Perhaps those critics of feminism could be well served with a reminder that calls for equality are not mean-spirited, but a genuine attempt to make the world a better place for those who, historically, have been given a crude solution.
Plus, director Greta Gerwig admits she also loves all the silly ways the men have fun throughout the film.
“I will say there were a lot of notes, a lot of note sessions on both sides, but the thing is that anything that’s in a movie, any reference – and we’re referring to The Godfather, Matchbox Twenty, Dave Matthews Band – I love it all,” Gerwig said. IndieWire. “I’ve never put anything in a movie that I don’t love, and that’s true. I don’t really use things I don’t like, within a film. That was at the heart of it.”
We are all hyper-sensitive to everything these days. But art often promotes social causes, new ideas, we promote what we believe and the values we want, and while political art can go horribly wrong, it can also work in the right context. Barbie he does with a wink and a smile, and I left the theater happy.
It’s not perfect, of course. I wish they had put a little more emphasis on how the mistreatment of the Purchases leads directly to Ken’s reactionary revolution and the establishment of Kendom since the film never quite spells out its themes. But overall, I enjoyed it as it was. If anything – and I realize I’m a broken record here – it could have been 15 to 20 minutes shorter. (Yes, I said something similar about it Oppenheimer and Mission Impossible: Dead Reckoning Part 1 and many other movies! A broken record, yes, but it’s not my fault that Hollywood values quantity over quality!)
I also wonder if the film – apart from its slapstick humor and goofy musical bits – will fly a bit high above younger children. After all, it is a movie about dolls. So many of her best jokes will never land with the consumer Barbie. The opening is a parody of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. I bet not one kid – hell, maybe not one under 25 – got that joke in the show I was in today. And I think that’s fine, too. At least Barbie he did his own thing, unapologetically, and did it well.