At long last, a film has arrived that answers some of the greatest questions of our time: Who is Barbie? What is she about? Can she really do everything? And most importantly, what ever happened to the Barbie whose hair I cut off and whose face I drew on?
The new hit film “Barbie” answers all these questions and many more in a fun and refreshingly subversive way.
“Barbie” is a film that can be described using words like “pinkalicious,” beach and inescapable-thoughts-of-death. It’s safe to say those looking for a soulless IP film meant to advertise Barbie dolls, or parents preparing themselves for a 90-minute singing extravaganza a la “Frozen” may find this film is not what they thought it was.
The film, directed by Greta Gerwig and co-written with her partner Noah Baumbach, follows a Barbie doll as she leaves the safety of Barbie Land and travels to the real world in order to seal a rift between the two universes.
For those of us who subscribe to the church of Greta Gerwig, the surprisingly heavy themes of the movie should be no surprise. Gerwig is known for her examinations of womanhood. She’s also known for her show-stopping third act monologues which manage to animate the audience through either clapping or tears.
Gloria (America Ferrera), a Mattel employee and Barbie enthusiast, delivers a similar monologue during the film. Ferrera had a standout performance that contributes a uniquely human perspective to the plastic world of Barbie.
Gloria delivers a rousing speech on the experience of being a woman — complete with some intro to feminism lessons — in a way that makes you feel like you're being talked to instead of talked at. Gloria’s relationship with her daughter Sasha (Ariana Greenblatt) secures her a place in Gerwig’s fictional mothers hall of fame alongside Laura Dern from “Little Women”, and Laurie Metcalf from “Lady Bird”.
If you hadn’t picked up on it already, “Barbie” is a film about womanhood. But the Barbie doll itself is a conundrum.
Barbie is supposed to represent all women, but she only looked a certain way for a long time. She could do anything, but only within reason. She's independent, but somehow she always ends up looking after all of her friends and eventual younger siblings.
In Gerwig’s Barbie Land, none of those contradictions exist. Barbie can truly be anything, and by some miracle, she’s respected as such no matter if her job is astronaut, construction worker or Nobel Prize-winning physicist (take that Oppenhiemer!). Though the film focuses on “Stereotypical Barbie” (Margot Robbie), it asserts Barbie can be anyone and features disabled Barbies, Barbies of all races and transgender Barbies.
In my opinion, the film didn’t need to focus on a stereotypical Barbie, but I’ll be the first to admit the world is not quite ready for that yet.
Still, in Barbie Land, the Kens are treated as an afterthought. In a twist from our reality, it’s the Kens who cheer for the Barbies as they play volleyball. Ryan Gosling’s “Stereotypical Ken” has a job that he describes as “beach… just beach,” and simply looks cool while the Barbies do their thing.
I won’t lie, plenty of films have tried to critique sexism and misogyny through thinly veiled metaphors, or in this case a reverse of the issue itself. But Gerwig’s script makes the concept feel fresh. In the real world, a Mattel intern asks the CEO, “I’m a man with no power, does that make me a woman?” As the Kens rebel against their treatment in the second half of the film, we find that statement is untrue.
This reveals another layer of the film's take on womanhood. When the Barbies were in charge, the Kens were simply out of mind and powerless, but not made to do anything they didn't want to. In the new “Kendom,” women are subjected like they are in the real world. They’re made to be less than Kens and forced to lose their homes and careers in favor of service to the Kens’ every need. Gerwig’s point is clear: Women are not men with no power. Rather, they are actively subjugated in both Kendom and in the real world.
Our journey into this film runs parallel to Barbie’s journey into the real world. Stereotypical Barbie is disheartened to find that the real world wasn’t what she’d been told and that Barbie hadn’t fixed everything for women. “The real world isn’t what I thought it was,” she laments to Barbie creator Ruth Handler (Rhea Perlman).
Perlman’s character smiles, and offers her a hidden piece of hope, “Isn’t that wonderful?”
The real world isn't what Barbie thought it was, and this movie isn’t what many thought it was going to be. But throughout the film, which clocks in at a glorious hour and 45 minutes, it proves to be all the more wonderful for it.
With Barbie, everything comes together: the writing, the acting, the amazing costume and set design and even the film's soundtrack—the standout being Billie Eilish’s “What Was I Made For?” that underscores a touching montage near the end of the film.
“Who is Barbie?” is a question that becomes uniquely intertwined with another one by the end of the film: Who are we as women and as humans? Maybe it’s for the better that this particular question remains unanswered.
Gabriella Hartlaub is an arts editor for the Daily Cardinal. She also reports state politics and life & style stories. Follow her on Twitter at @gabihartlaub.