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Movie Review: It's a Barbie World; We're Just Living in It

Let's say I was more than just a little excited to see Greta Gerwig's "Barbie."

I did the whole shazam; I made my own pink outfit, bought opening night tickets, and followed every latest development and press release for the Barbie movie on Instagram. When July 21 finally rolled around, and I walked into the theater in my knee-high boots and neon pink cowgirl hat, my expectations were higher than the Barbie-dreamhouse skyline.

Jackie poses at movies. Credit: Jackie Sullivan | TLJ

Spoilers Ahead

It was not what I was expecting. The opening scene was cut and pasted from one of the teasers the media team had released; little girls playing with baby dolls in a desert setting, a nod to the opening scene from Stanley Kubrick's "2001: A Space Odyssey". Cute, but nothing special. This opening sequence is quickly undercut by the Barbie logo popping into the sky from thin air in what is honestly an embarrassing display of special effects. Initially, the poor special effects bothered me, but as the movie progressed, I realized that the gaudy special effects were actually an artistic choice to portray the superficiality of children’s play. Barbie is plastic, after all. The cuteness of the bulky special effects was not anything unordinary from any K-Pop music video, anyways, and alas, I rested my grievances with the Barbie special effects team.

Video Comparison between the opening scene of "Barbie" and "2001: A Space Odyssey"

The audience's attention is quickly shifted to Barbie-land very early in the movie, and the lighthearted pink movie that everyone expected appears. This glamour fest doesn't last long. Barbie is soon burdened with introspection, and her moral dilemmas lead her to leave Barbie-land and adventure into the human world in order to find the girl that is playing with her. It was at this point that I realized that this movie would not be the sparkle-fest that I was expecting. No, no; Greta Gerwig had done it again and slipped the feminist agenda into an unassuming film. Barbie quickly learns that the real world is nothing like Barbie-land; women are not empowered and are fighting for their right to live equal lives with men each and every day. Barbie is horrified. Ken, however, reaches a different consensus. Men in the real world hold power, do what they want, and don’t live purely to seek the admiration of women. Ken has only ever lived to be a toy for Barbie to play with. His job is "beach," after all. Ken decides he must what he has learned from the real world and brings it back to Barbie-land. Ken runs back to Barbie-land, and Barbie stays in the real world to continue her search for the girl that is playing with her.

Eventually, Barbie finds the girl who is playing with her and brings her back to Barbie-land to "fix" her. Upon Barbie's return, Barbie and her travelers realize that Barbie is no longer in control of Barbie-land. The Kens have taken over, and Barbie no longer holds a job or does anything other than being a toy for Ken. Barbie decides that things must return to the way they were before. This plot point made me extremely nervous; if Barbie returns things to the way they were before, she is belittling men and reducing them back to objects; if Barbie fails to return things to the way they were before, then Ken wins, and women are reduced to objects. Both situations are equally sexist and problematic, and it seemed to pit one sex against the other. In an ideal world, it should never be men against women, or any other groups against each other. Greta Gerwig had perfectly modeled what the equal rights struggle looks like to the extreme, in a very black and white (or Ken and Barbie) setting. Now it was just a matter of if she was going to be able to model a perfect solution without offending any major part of her audience in the process.

In the end, the girl that is playing with our Barbie is able to help Barbie to fix Barbie-land by letting the Kens hold real jobs and be real people other than just an accessory to Barbie, and allowing Barbies to return to their old jobs or to just exist and do as they wish. This is a happy resolution, and as I mentioned earlier, it prevents any major audience from being offended. The Barbies are not superior to the Kens, and the Kens are not superior to the Barbies. They are a dystopian level of perfectly equal. In the process of saving Barbie-land, Greta is not shy to continue to shed light on the human experience of being a woman. Characters talk about how women face unrealistic expectations every day and yet are still not regarded as equal to men by a large number of people. Greta argues that sexism and ideas from the patriarchy still exist in the real world; the modern age has just made it more difficult to pinpoint sexism because a large part of sexism is internalized within subconscious prejudices and society itself.

I won’t spoil the specifics of the ending, but I will note that I think it ended a movie with lots of heavy topics in a lighthearted way that beautifully wrapped up Barbie's story. Overall I did enjoy the Barbie movie even though it was not exactly what I expected. I think it was able to tackle a lot of difficult topics and talk about them in a way that was not offensive to anyone. Gerwig was able to use satire throughout the entire course of the movie to shed light on the human experience and on a lot of the obstacles women are forced to navigate every day. If the Barbie movie did offend you, well… You might have a little bit of internalized sexism or other subconscious prejudices that you might need to do a little thinking about. Most importantly, if you have a girlfriend and she asks you to watch "Barbie" and she’s already seen it, it's a trick, and you better lie and say you love that movie unless you want to have an uncomfortable ride back home.

Credit: Jackie Sullivan | TLJ

Like many other of Gerwig's movies, many elements are hidden within this movie that can not be caught from just one viewing. I would definitely like to get the chance to see the Barbie movie again now that I know what to expect in order to analyze some of the smaller artistic choices Gerwig made in order to foster thought and encourage difficult conversations.

My most general impression of the Barbie movie is that I enjoyed it, but it was not my favorite movie of all time.

I appreciate Gerwig's storytelling style, the humor throughout the film, and how difficult topics were addressed, but I won't be throwing any hands if someone does not enjoy it as much as I did. Gerwig's movies, in general, have a specific tone to them, and you either like it or you don't. If you liked the film "Lady Bird" and "Little Women" as I did, then you will definitely enjoy "Barbie." If you despised either of those movies, chances are you probably won’t love "Barbie" either.

As much as I would like to believe that "Barbie" will foster conversations and lead people to recognize the internalized biases within themselves, I think the most prolific thing that will come from the Barbie movie is the amount of pop culture and memes related to it. If you're on Instagram, you've probably already seen phrases from the movie, such as "mojo dojo casa house" and "I am Kenough." People are even talking about their own or their partner's Ken jobs which, other than "beach," can apparently include "computer" and "cookie." //


Jackie Sullivan

 

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Was Barbie a good movie?

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