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Barbie (Christian Movie Review)

About The Movie

As the famous song by Aqua once declared, “I’m a Barbie girl in a Barbie world. Life is plastic. It’s fantastic!” After months of being hyped as the bubble-gum pink side of the viral “Barbeneimer” craze, Barbie has finally been unleashed into the world. Appearing for the first time in live action, the Barbie world is no longer plastic. Unfortunately, it is also far from fantastic.

The Barbie doll has always been more complicated than a mere childhood toy. There is great potential for an interesting and thought-provoking story about the cultural impact of the doll (both the good and the bad). Director Greta Gerwig and company can be commended for taking a bold and ambitious swing at doing just that. But as “Baseball Barbie” might have warned them, the harder you swing the easier it is to miss— and Barbie is a giant miss. 

The movie begins well. The realization of “Barbieworld” in live action is immersive and fun, with some wonderfully fresh and creative aesthetic choices, and the introduction to the story hints at a clever and subversive direction. The cast is comprised of A-list stars, and Gerwig is a gifted filmmaker. But the initial promise is short-lived. In the film’s opening scene, a group of young girls humorously embrace the invention of the Barbie doll by bluntly smashing their previous dolls against the ground. The scene is representative of the approach taken by the movie itself. Barbie is more a simplistic sermon than an entertaining story.

To call Barbie “heavy-handed” is an understatement. Everything in the movie is in rigid service to its message, rather than the allowing the message to flow organically from its story. The Barbie world seems to function in whichever way the message demands (several characters give the meta commentary, “Don’t think too much about it”). Characters don’t speak like believable people, but as mere mouthpieces for delivering the message (tween girls give lectures about “fascists” with the distinct voice of an adult scriptwriter). The entire third-act climax is largely a series of almost direct-to-camera speeches.

Barbie has an interesting theme to explore and a positive message to share, but rarely finds a way to do so without resorting to the most basic approach of simply having a character give a verbal lecture. The problem is not that the film has a strong feminist message (that should be expected from a Barbie movie), but that it repeatedly smashes audiences over the head with that message in uninteresting ways.

Also noteworthy is the surprisingly joyless tone. My movie theater was packed with mothers and daughters wearing matching pink attire, but the movie itself is far from a celebration of the doll. Beyond the nostalgia of seeing certain childhood play sets or characters come to life, the movie has almost nothing positive to say about the classic doll.

Margot Robbie’s Barbie is not a hero. She is universally reviled and repeatedly accused of “ruining the world” and the self-esteem of countless young girls (there is one undeveloped subplot that seeks to frame Barbie as a more positive connection point between a mother and daughter).

In the end, a movie that marketed itself as a clever and provocative social commentary on a complicated theme instead comes across like a 2-hour speech from a Hollywood award show stage, delivered in the form of an SNL sketch stretched far beyond its comedic limits. In my theater there were only a handful of scattered chuckles throughout the runtime but were plenty of cheers and “amens” after the delivered speeches. That might be a fitting representation of a movie that is less a story than a sermon. Some viewers will surely appreciate and feel empowered by the message being preached, but for those who also hoped to be entertained by a story, Barbieland may not have much else to offer.

On the Surface

For Consideration

       

Beneath The Surface

Engage The Film

Feminism, the Patriarchy, and Harmful Cultural Expectations

Despite the heavy-handed approach to delivering it, there are some positive and empowering aspects of the message.The movie attempts to use exaggerated and satirical elements to shine a light on the valid real-world struggles that many women endure. Margot Robbie’s “stereotypical Barbie” becomes representative of the idea that the lofty expectations of a “stereotypical” woman is unattainable, and thus a hurtful and confusing experience to those who feel they inevitably fall short.

The inverted power dynamic in Barbieland (and the unjust treatment of the Kens) is an attempt to showcase the gender imbalance in the world today (“If you feel bad for the Kens in the movie, then think of how many women feel in the real world” etc.). Although the original dolls may have been well-intentioned as a way to “inspire” young girls that they can “be anything,” the central message of the movie is that it is okay to just be yourself.    

At the same time, much like the doll it is satirizing, the movie’s message is also complicated and frequently self-contradicting.  For example, it attempts to expose the harm of “stereotypical” Barbie, but does so by deploying countless stereotypes (ie. every male in the movie without a single exception is a chauvinistic or abusive pig).

The third act speech centers on the importance of accepting that life is messy and complicated, but the movie paints with only sweeping and simplistic brushstrokes. The film villainizes the Kens for establishing the patriarchy in Barbieland, but then celebrates the Barbies for regaining control and treating the Kens in the same dismissive, controlling, and demeaning sense as they were. Barbie condemns the harmful and unrealistic beauty standards established by the Barbie doll, but does do with glamorous actresses and actors whose bodies are essentially manifestations of the dolls. The moviemakers themselves seem aware of this double-standard, allowing the narrator to interrupt the story and note that casting Margot Robbie in the lead roll is perhaps not a helpful way to make that particular point. 

On an individual level, there are some redemptive and wholesome themes of female empowerment, acceptance, and understanding. But on a wider level, the movie presents a somewhat cynical message that culture is all about power, and that the solution is not to challenge that harmful system, but merely to usurp those holding the power and claim it for your own.

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2 Comments

  • by Shan Shannon
    Posted July 28, 2023 4:43 pm 0Likes

    I appreciate your take on the movie. I grew up playing with Barbies and I loved it but I can see how you may have felt that it was preachy. I do have a few disagreements with your analysis. **Light spoilers!**

    Alan is not presented as a chauvinistic or abusive pig. He’s just a guy trying to live his best life and send very comfortable being himself. The Mattel intern and the human father don’t present that way, either. In fact, the Kens don’t act that way until they “discover” patriarchy and in the end didn’t seem truly happy when they were being chauvinistic.

    I also feel like we walked away with two very different takes from the ending. Had the Barbies simply regained control and had everything go back to the way it was before, I would agree with you about the message being a power struggle, usurping one another. But without discussing the details too much, I feel like it ended with a lot of self-discovery, both for the Barbies and the Kens. They both came of age. The Kens recognized they can contribute more to society than just being accessories for the Barbies. And the Barbies realized they had been taking the Kens for granted. It really felt to me like they were both growing up.

  • by Nope
    Posted July 31, 2023 2:00 pm 0Likes

    Isn’t the movie really about Mattel saying “If you had just stuck the values we gave you, everything would be fine.” Srsly, there are 3 character groups (Barbie, Ken, and the Corporate Overlords) that work in 2 worlds (Barbieland matriarchy, and the Real World patriarchy). It’s set up that one mirrors the other, with gender roles, gender power and complexity being polar opposites. In crossing the border (through the looking glass) Barbie realizes she’s way more complicated, but lacks self determination due to the patriarchy/matriarchy flip. Ken realizes he’s got purpose and power in the Real World, but lacks the experience to know what to do with it, so gravitates towards the most stereotypical masculine values and roles since he now has access to self determination. Mattel simply freaks out that their profits may be in jeopardy. Once the Real World gets dragged back into Barbieland, we see the formerly repressed Ken’s in full rebellion, the formerly omnipotent Barbie’s canceled by the new Ken culture, and Mattel exceedingly relieved that they’re still making money on this mess (and therefore simply go with it ref: tickle me, tickle you…whatever works). Things only resolve when Barbie restores order, squashes the rebellion, and grows a vagina…just like before, but now w sex.

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