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Now in cinemas

Greta Gerwig’s Barbie

When toxic positivity meets Stallone in fur … and men on horses

Hi Barbie, I too was actually really invested in getting the Zack Snyder cut of Justice League, but it seems perfectly legit that it would be boring for you and most other Barbies — who aren’t into films, into that specific film, or simply into that film’s genre — to be told by a Ken why they need to be invested in it. That’s the through line of the joke that works quite well in your film: Men making women feel like it’s outrageous they’ve never seen something like The Godfather, doing unsolicited info dumping on them about why they need to love it as a construct in the grand scheme of all things film rather than sharing why the men personally love it, instead aping why it universally matters for cinema itself and yadda yadda yadda.

Written by


Aug 3, 2023

© 2023 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Barbie is laying the satire on thick with its visuals and perhaps even so thick that some people won’t recognize it for what it is. Barbie Land is a magical place (truly, if we’re talking about the efforts that went into the production design) that embodies the toxic “good vibes only mindset” and along with that the expectation of constant perfectionism generally associated with the brand. Not long after a pink-clouded opening scene, however, Barbie shifts into existential crisis mode by tying Barbie’s world to the real world and a real human being that is playing with her and, unbeknownst to her, is thereby transferring her own thoughts onto Barbie.

© 2023 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. All Rights Reserved.

“Barbie is laying the satire on thick with its visuals and perhaps even so thick that some people won’t recognize it for what it is.”

Let the road trip begin to figure out the connection, the feelings and how they came to be, and what it means to be a woman in the real world. This is pretty cathartic stuff and there’s a rousing speech in here that feels pretty sobering and will have many women nodding along and, hopefully, some men, myself included, doing some self-reflecting on how their behavior affects the women around them that can seemingly never win, no matter what they do. It’s very much a film of the moment with its anti-capitalist stance, while paradoxically being a capitalist product that will likely sell more of the stuff whose legacy of misguided ideas helped bring on this film in the first place. It’s very much revealing the flaws of patriarchal thinking that places ownership on women and then goes to war if they give them the cold shoulder routine. It’s eerie how easily the film can montage the patriarchy by starting off casually in a bro-laden atmosphere like the gym and then assembling lots of other representative images for it, peaking with Sylvester Stallone in fur (and men on horses, of course). The patriarchy is like a virus that seems to infect a perfectly happy (if painfully positive), fragile matriarchy like Barbie Land rather quickly, turning doctors into damsels and book writers into bimbos way too easily. Since they’ve not yet been vaxxed against the patriarchy’s shallow promises of giving their minds a rest, they gladly switch to getting waxed for it, it seems.

What’s most astounding here is how badly the producing parties are willing to have themselves portrayed when confronted with their own legacies and there are lots of disturbing products involved from Mattel’s past in particular that you’d think they rather gloss over. While the makers don’t give these products full attention or turn the story into one of those products’ stories instead of the stereotypical Barbie’s, they do feature them prominently enough. Kudos for letting Gerwig and her crew critique them from within. Add to that a spot-on narration by Helen Mirren, who also gets the funniest apropos meta line of the film that is addressed to the makers, and you have a thoroughly entertaining satire to enjoy.

Lastly, I feel like it’s important to mention the use of music in the film as there are several perceptive song lyrics at the beginning that capture the sudden change in Barbie’s behavior and there are also some meaningful needle drops. Closer to Fine plays as the empowerment anthem on Barbie’s and other women’s journey in general while Push with its aggressive lyrics is used as a clever juxtaposition to that when the Kens play it as a four-hour love song to their Barbies. There’s even a place for a redone Barbie World version over the credits, although I can’t help but think the original by Aqua could have found a place somewhere else as it perfectly fits the satire of the film.

Alternate takes

Written by

It was hard to imagine how a Barbie film could have turned out. After watching it, it’s clear that Greta Gerwig has managed to delight both the audience and Mattel themselves. And she did it with infectious fun, self-deprecation and, above all, heart. It shows in the incredibly impressive set design, which is overloaded with pink, yet makes the tawdry masterfully palatable.

With every frame painted in the vibrant hues of Barbie pink, the film exposes the apparent perfection of Barbie dolls while tenderly exploring the ambivalent complexity and beauty of human flaws.

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