"I take orders from the Octoboss."


I took my time writing about BARBIE, the smash hit pop culture phenomenon from director Greta Gerwig (LADY BIRD, LITTLE WOMEN) and Mattel Films (MONSTER HIGH, TEAM HOT WHEELS, MAX STEEL), so all the takes have pretty much been taken, and I’m sure everybody who hasn’t seen it has heard by now that many people love it. I’m another one of those people. I’ll try not to go on too long about it, but I want to pay my respects, and I promise some of the aspects I’m most interested in are not what most of the other reviews focus on.

In this time of Barbiemania I don’t need to go into detail about all of the movie’s joys, but indulge me on a few of them. First of all, I’m a sucker for a movie with this extreme of a dedication to creating a stylized, artificial world. It’s comparable to movies like POPEYE, SPEED RACER or BATMAN RETURNS in that respect. And what the hell, I’ll say THE FLINTSTONES too, though I want to stress that especially in that example I’m just talking about the heightened sets, props and costumes, not equating them in overall quality.

We’re blessed to also have ASTEROID CITY this summer, but generally these beauties don’t travel in herds. Much of this movie is set in a theatrical, soundstage world, filmed on what amounts to 1:1 scale miniatures, or life-sized playsets – Dream Houses, a beach equipped with solid plaster waves, flat cut-out suns, moons and dolphins, a fake highway with a painted backdrop loop on hand-cranked rollers. I was amused to hear that Barbie’s pink convertible is not a full-sized car, but one scaled for Margot Robbie to stick out as high as a Barbie doll would stick out of a Barbie car. Of course, but it looks so natural within the world of the movie that it never would’ve occurred to me.

There are choreographed dance numbers. Ken sings a rock ballad. There’s a great Lizzo song that acts as narration (though Helen Mirren [SHADOWBOXER] is the actual narrator, who at least once interjects with a point we’re all thinking). But Robbie is the best gimmick in the movie because between this and her Harley Quinn movies (SUICIDE SQUAD, BIRDS OF PREY, THE SUICIDE SQUAD) she’s proven to be a genius at the very specific and unusual art of playing a character that’s both a cartoon and a human, each side strengthening rather than voiding out the other. I think there are many other people who could play a good Barbie, but I can’t imagine who could match the layers she gives hers.

Much of the movie takes place in Barbieland, where Barbie (Robbie, THE LEGEND OF TARZAN) lives in the Barbie Dream House, takes showers with no water, drinks from empty glasses of milk, floats from the open bedroom at the top of her house to her pink car as if carried by a child’s hand, throws nightly parties and sleepovers for all her female friends, who are also Barbie.

Everything seems amazing, and honestly it is. This is not a Lynchian “the happy surface belies the ugly truth” kinda deal. But life is never perfect, and there are issues bubbling beneath the shiny Pantone 219 veneer of Barbieland. For one thing, Barbie has been thinking about death lately, and no one knows what the fuck to do with that when she blurts out a confession about it during her dance party. For another, her boyfriend Ken (Ryan Gosling, ONLY GOD FORGIVES) seems kinda lost. He’s jealous of other Kens (especially Simu Liu, recurring role, season 1 of Taken) when they talk to Barbie, and wants more attention from her, though he doesn’t understand why.

Barbie (who later learns that she’s Stereotypical Barbie, as opposed to President Barbie [Issa Rae, THE LOVEBIRDS], Writer Barbie [Alexandra Shipp, X-MEN: APOCALYPSE], Journalist Barbie [Sharon Rooney, UNDER THE SKIN], etc.) decides to visit the only outcast in Barbieland, Weird Barbie (Kate McKinnon, BOMBSHELL), who’s like a doll that a kid got bored with or grew out of and decided to cut her hair crazy and draw on her face and stuff. Weird Barbie tells us the (luckily very loose) rules of the universe: that there is a “real world” where each of the Barbies and Kens are being played with, and whoever plays with Stereotypical Barbie in the real world must be going through some shit, causing these thoughts about her mortality. So, reluctantly allowing Ken to tag along, she travels to the real world to find out what’s what.

There are so many movies with some variation on somebody coming from a magical land to “the real world” and experiencing fish-out-of-water hijinks – ENCHANTED, FAT ALBERT, BEASTMASTER 2. I love that BARBIE heads in that direction but quickly says, “Don’t worry, it’s not the real real world,” and doesn’t get bogged down in reactions to the craziness of Barbie walking around. As soon as she’s spotted, the executives of Mattel (led by CEO Will Ferrell, BEWITCHED) are notified and they immediately understand the situation, knew it would happen eventually, just act like it makes perfect sense and don’t have to explain it. Other people who meet Barbie only act like it’s unlikely, not impossible.

Barbie does find the family her doll counterpart belongs to, and tries to get to know sullen teen Sasha (Ariana Greenblatt, LOVE AND MONSTERS) and her Mattel employee mother Gloria (America Ferrera, LORDS OF DOGTOWN) to get to the bottom of things. She’s surprised to learn that the real world is more complicated than Barbieland, that women don’t run things here, and that some people don’t like her and don’t mind expressing all the negative things that the famous doll has come to be associated with – unattainable beauty standards, etc. Sasha even calls her a fascist.

That’s all for girls. I’m a boy, so I play with He-Man and only relate to the Ken parts of the movie. Obviously. While Barbie takes care of business, Ken walks around Century City and notices things he’s never seen in Barbieland: a group of business men ignoring a woman. Guys lifting weights. Posters of Sylvester Stallone. He starts to feel differently about himself. He starts strutting. He learns the word “patriarchy” and gets really excited about it, though he only partly understands it.

When he brings this idea back to Barbieland it grows into a caricature of masculinity somewhere on the spectrum between stereotypes that are actually pretty accurate and things that only exist in beer commercials. Suddenly all the Kens have chin up bars and jars of protein powder everywhere. They get really into sunglasses, headbands, fingerless gloves and big screen TVs. Ken starts to associate cowboy imagery, wild stallions and the ruggedness of the wild west with manliness – either that or he just likes horses – so the TVs are always showing a horse running. Inspired by one of the Stallone photos, he wears a full length fur coat (with the added personal touch of horse-head-print lining). It’s a good-natured ribbing of common male fixations and signifiers, and it’s not only the meatheads who get zinged; there are at least two really funny jokes about movies particularly popular with a certain type of dude (both movies I really like; a BOONDOCK SAINTS gag would’ve also worked though). I can laugh because I recognize it, I know it’s true. But that’s not me. Wait a minute, that’s not me, is it?

One of the many backburner essay ideas I never got around to was a piece about the movies G.I. JOE: RETALIATION and JEM AND THE HOLOGRAMS. Both were pretty disappointing movies but I thought it would be interesting to compare how director Jon M. Chu approached a “boys toy” vs. a “girls toy” in his back-to-back Hasbro adaptations. That would’ve been me reading into those movies, but BARBIE actually digs into similar themes of its own accord. I’m fascinated by the absurdly exaggerated gender representations in the cartoons and toys we children of the ‘80s were raised on. My favorite work in the Mattel oeuvre took place in a world where almost every male, including the nerdy prince and the evil skeleton wizard, had a body that could win a Mr. Universe contest, and the very best person on the planet was called He-Man. The spin-off series meant for girls starred his sister, a blonde waif named She-Ra. I wonder if pushing these extremes so hard helped any kids we’d now describe as gender-non-conforming see that they didn’t gravitate to one or the other? Or maybe they just saw through it and laughed it off. My wife, who’s hardly a tomboy, tells me she watched He-Man, so she found it patronizing when She-Ra came along with her comb-able hair. For girls. Still, I think she had to stick to the “girl aisle” in the toy store.

In the Netflix animated mini-series Masters of the Universe: Revelation, it’s established that anyone who raises Prince Adam’s magic sword can get the “fabulous secret powers” of He-Man, and I thought it might be interesting if Teela used it and called herself She-Man. Maybe in season 2.

He-Man is not mentioned in BARBIE, but another musclebound ‘80s icon of malehood is. I can’t believe there’s a movie about Barbies that still hit me in a personal place just because of a couple meaningfully displayed posters of Sylvester Stallone – I don’t know of a better representation of heightened masculinity in all its glory and folly. He is and has been a role model and inspiration to so many of us, and in a way there are as many Slys are there are Barbies. He’s an athlete, a writer, a painter, a filmmaker; a poet of the underdog, the ham-and-eggers, the inarticulate goons with hearts of gold, the stubborn but well-meaning, those who can change and if they can change and you can change everybody can change. He’s an idol, a double self-titled-franchise star, a former restaurant chain co-owner, a statue on a stairway, a comeback kid, a comeback grandpa. He has also at times been a symbol of vanity, ego, unattainable physique, oiled muscles, human growth hormone, and occasional overconfidence. A human tiger jacket. He triumphs and he falls and he gets back up and triumphs again. He’s an Oscar nominee and an all time favorite target of the stupid fuckin Razzies. He maybe went too far by putting the robot in ROCKY IV, but then he second guessed himself and took it out of his director’s cut after we’d loved it for decades. We aspire to his greatness and yet he reflects our flaws. He is everything. So I get it, Ken. I see what you see.

Yes, to me BARBIE is partly a movie about the meaning of Sylvester Stallone. What’s crazier is that newly confident Ken’s gait made me think of John Travolta’s iconic strut in SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER, what it said about fragile masculinity in that movie, and how Stallone as director continued that exploration in STAYING ALIVE, but I figured I was reading too much into it because I had just watched and written about those movies. Then Mike Ryan did this great interview with Gerwig for Uproxx where she confirms that “everything that we have, or that we reference, in the movie is only ever stuff that we love. And I mean, I love Sylvester Stallone.” She raves about how “he really adorned himself as a man” and the interview ends up being dominated by a discussion of the ROCKY movies. Also, I could hardly believe it but she says, “Another thing we were looking at was also, obviously, great song-and-dance man of the ‘70s, John Travolta. And also Sly Stallone directing John Travolta in STAYING ALIVE,” a movie she says is “incredible!” I agree.

I think Gerwig approaches Barbie kind of like I try to approach, say, the films of Steven Seagal, or the DIRTY HARRY series, or the music of Ice Cube: this is what I love about it, this is what’s fucked up about it, we don’t have to pretend that only one or the other is true. And I think she’s an overall positive person so she can have a fun celebration of Barbie at the same time as an honest assessment. She has the same attitude toward the dolls’ cartoonish ideas of femininity and masculinity – they can be fun, as well as stifling. When Ken creates the male-dominated society of Kendom he has a good time for a while, but trying to live up to that image doesn’t make him happy either, and he finds that he still isn’t really being true to himself. Other than his appreciation for horses.

I love how the movie pumps up these gender roles not to knock them down, but to say that they’re not everything. Barbie’s ultimate girly lifestyle isn’t enough to suppress thoughts of death and yearning for something else in her life, but that doesn’t make it bad in itself, if she enjoys it. It looks like fun. And it’s not lost on the movie that when the Kens replace girliness with their confused interpretation of manliness they feel liberated, because they’ve never been allowed to indulge themselves before. Ultimately Ken realizes that this charade of manly ideals is not him, is not good for women or men, and Barbie realizes (unprompted) that she’s never really treated him fairly. But also doesn’t feel obligated to pretend she loves him.

By my understanding of the word I consider myself a feminist, no question. But also I’m very aware that I’m a dude, and one who couldn’t tell you jack shit about feminist theory or what the different waves are or anything like that. So I will just note that there are at least a few people out there academically dissecting the themes of BARBIE in ways I feel are over my head and out of my jurisdiction. I do not believe the adaptation of Mattel’s Barbie is the ultimate all-encompassing statement on and solution to all gender issues. But as far as movies go I think it conveys a nice world view.

It’s easy to imagine a reality where some other director tries to do the BARBIE movie and doesn’t crack it, and a couple years later it’s a forgotten movie released on a budget double feature DVD with BRATZ, JEM AND THE HOLOGRAMS or one of the less popular AMERICAN GIRL movies. But Gerwig hit it out of the park with the bases loaded, as if channeling Made To Move Baseball Player Barbie, The Ultimate Posable Barbie. This movie is better, and has done better, than almost anyone could’ve imagined.

But I’d actually been anticipating it for a while, because long ago there was a version being written by Diablo Cody, and I thought “I don’t know what the fuck that is, but if Diablo Cody’s writing it, she probly has something interesting in mind.” Same thing when it became Gerwig. The way I and I think many others thought about it was yeah, it’s silly that they’re doing a Barbie movie, I hope she doesn’t get stuck doing stuff like this all the time, but she’s great, it will be fun, she’ll have a fun time, and it will get her some money, maybe even help her get other projects made. And it is fun, it does seem like she had a fun time, and hopefully she will get a fair cut and some clout from the fact that the movie has literally made more than a billion dollars.

But actually I don’t think that’s the way to look at it anymore. BARBIE transcends just being good for a movie based on a toy, or for a goof in between Gerwig’s “real” movies. I think it’s as worthy of her filmography as the other two. It’s a personal expression, cultural statement and pop art object that could only be done through this specific multi-generational toy phenomenon. There’s no non-doll version that works, there’s no non-Barbie version (where she’s called Angie or Tammy but you know she’s like Barbie) that works as well. So it’s not a matter of “it’s good for what it is.” It could only be this.

* * *


BARBIE has plenty of fun digging into the Mattel archives to reference oddball Barbie products from throughout the years (a pooping dog, a teen with growing breasts, one with a built in camera, etc.) but one I was surprised not to see was Barbie and the Rockers, their 1987 attempt to compete with Jem and the Holograms. I decided to watch the tie-in TV special/home video and write about it as exclusive Patreon bonus material. So you can read about Barbie’s amazing rock ’n roll career while supporting my equally impressive writing career. Enjoy!

click here to read about BARBIE AND THE ROCKERS: OUT OF THIS WORLD

This entry was posted on Friday, August 18th, 2023 at 2:51 pm and is filed under Reviews, Comedy/Laffs. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

37 Responses to “Barbie”

  1. “I think Gerwig approaches Barbie kind of like I try to approach, say, the films of Steven Seagal, or the DIRTY HARRY series, or the music of Ice Cube: this is what I love about it, this is what’s fucked up about it, we don’t have to pretend that only one or the other is true.”

    Ha! Truer words were never spoken and this statement should be laminated and stuck on the ceiling for every 24/7 Internet Dweller to periodically glance up and see.

    As I said before, I will eventually get around to seeing this on streaming, but the nuance-free chatter about this has been annoying to say the least. And both sides need to take a step back and chill.

    Clarion Calls of “Barbie is a potent commentary on Toxic Masculinity and the Patriarchy” are only marginally less annoying than whiny, insecure man babies going on about how it’s an “Emasculating, Man Hating Vile Piece of Shit”.

    Vern’s balanced, nuanced take reminds me why I love coming here.

  2. Coincidentally I just watched it less than 24 hours ago and had a blast. It was a Friday afternoon matinee, so the theater wasn’t exactly packed (A few kids of varying ages, one mother, one father and an elderly woman who went by herself), but it felt like my sister and me were laughing the loudest and the most. Not saying everybody else hated it, but I’m not sure they enjoyed it as much as we did.

    What surprised me after all the talk about its feminism and the (of course bullshit) right wing hand-wringing about it’s supposed anti-man propaganda, was that it also had a nice “Listen to the men too” message. Like Vern I’m a feminist, but also a man. And I talked on here several times before about how I think that the recent villification of men and the constant “Shut up, you can’t have any problems if you have a penis because the world was made by and for you” whenever we try to talk about how society screws men over, wasn’t exactly helpful. And I admit there were times in the movie where I was worried they would go for a simplified “Women good and strong, men dumb and bad” narrative. So when it turned into “Don’t forget the men, because they struggle with their place in the world too and if you ignore them, they might get so desperate that they can be easily manipulated by evil forces”, I was pleasantly surprised.

    However there are two things that keep me from calling the movie “great”. It’s really damn good though. It’s creative, hilarious, everybody is so damn well cast (Welcome back, Michael Cera!), I love how the scenes in the Mattel headquarters are closer to THE HUDSUCKER PROXY than something resembling actual reality, but the movie is also so damn overstuffed! It feels like they weren’t sure about its commercial success, so they just stuffed everything into it in fear that they couldn’t make a sequel. The story starts out as Barbie feeling things that Barbie shouldn’t feel, to her getting into the real world to help the kid who plays with her, then she reconnects a mother with her teenage daughter while Ken starts a stereotypical Bro-volution in Barbieland and the bumbling executives of Mattel try to prevent Barbie and Ken from accidentally destroying the world. Especially in the last 1/4 I wish they should’ve shown some restraint. When a big (comedic) fight scene suddenly turns into an overlong music number (I guess the Oscars will be I’M JUST KEN vs PEACHES), which is then followed by a sappy “Casper turns into a real boy while Bill Pullman’s dead wife appears as an angel” moment, I really started to check my watch.

    And I have to say that all the Meta humor kinda left a bad taste in my mouth. It was funny, but also felt so calculated. You know that some Mattel executives went through the script and added notes like “Remember the failed Barbie line from 1985? Make a reference, because that way we can maybe create enough buzz to bring it back as limited collectors edition.” or “I like the joke about the sexism in our company, because it’s a cheap pop that makes us totally relatable and in on the joke and that way we never have to talk about it again.” Just because the movie has more artistic value than we all thought a movie that was based on BARBIE could ever have, doesn’t mean it’s not at least partly a soulless commercial from a multi-million dollar company that was made to make them even richer.

    But I take it. Like I said, I had fun.

    By the way, is THE GODFATHER really such a “guy’s movie”? I don’t even hear actual cinephiles talk about it that often. I guess the script originally said PULP FICTION or something like that, but it was probably too controversial or they couldn’t get the rights.

  3. I’ve read a bunch of articles and reportedly Mattel’s notes were more like “We’re embarrassed about Alan, do you have to make fun of that?” and “Do you have to call her Stereotypical Barbie?” and “Do you have to call her a fascist?” and they were like “Yes” and to their credit they said “Okay.”

    There was one example mentioned where Gerwig agreed to remove a joke about something but I forget what it was. Surprisingly it was not about the time when a talking Barbie said something about math being hard. I gotta figure either Mattel forbid that, it was before Gerwig’s time, or they figured The Simpsons already had a joke about it. To people my age I think it’s the most famous Barbie controversy.

  4. Okay, that’s probably true too, but stuff like that always gives me some “Let’s pretend we can laugh at ourself because it’s good PR” vibes. Like when a politician suddenly shows up on SNL to give his doppelgänger a pat on the back. I suspected they probably had bigger trouble with certain jokes about doll genitals. (Which were definitely moments were my sister and me seemed to be the only ones laughing.)

    On a personal level by the way, it’s interesting that my sister was absolutely not into Barbie as a kid. She loved He-Man and M.A.S.K. and video games, although she was also into Rainbow Brite and My Little Pony, so it’s not like she was immune to “girl toys”. My aunt bought her a Barbie or two, but she never really knew what to do with them. Only as an adult she really started to appreciate Barbie and started to buy some cool looking ones. So she most likely would’ve avoided this movie 30 years ago, but now was hyped as soon as it was announced. Between this and THE SUPER MARIO BROS MOVIE, it was a good year for her inner child.

  5. I find it difficult to express my opinion on BARBIE without sounding condescending, which is mortifying for me. That is not my intention! It’s just that my feelings on it are very mild. I enjoyed it. It was cute. It was kinda funny, even. The production design was pretty cool. It’s no masterpiece but who gives a shit? I never liked masterpieces anyway, and in any case nobody’s champing at the bit to hear what some middle-aged straight male honkey thinks about a movie that is perfectly happy inviting him to the cookout if he can behave himself but certainly wasn’t made with him in mind. Which is great! Fuck me! I’ve had thousands of movies servicing pretty much every single one of my cinematic whims, but there’s obviously tons of people out there who, whether they knew it or not, were waiting for a candy-colored pop art fantasia that doubles as feminist satire. And they’re happy with it and I’m happy for them. As for me, I liked it but didn’t love it. I’m just committed to a different narrative paradigm than a lot of the movies they got these days. I like it when the message of the movie is buried in metaphor so you have to do a little work to suss it out. I’m never gonna fully get behind this thing they do nowadays where they just come right out and tell you the movie’s thesis statement and then support their points with evidence from the text like they’re writing a term paper about THE GREAT GATSBY. That speech the mom gives at the end is absolutely 100% correct and also a little cringe to me. I feel like the more impactful bits of the movie, the parts that actually felt a little subversive, were the subtler throwaway moments that you have to put together on your own, like when Ken asked if men could have half the seats on the Barbieland Supreme Court and President Barbie was like, “Ha ha no.” Because then you get that this is exactly what women in our world have to deal with without it being spelled out for you. But I have to admit that there are a lot of fucking blockheads out there, mostly male but some female, too, who wouldn’t get the message if you carved it into an anvil and dropped it on their heads from a third-story window. So maybe subtlety and metaphor are passe. Maybe we’re in an era of saying the quiet part out loud. And maybe that’s okay. In my heart I’m a total Alan but in practice I’m just an old man who mostly watches movies where people murder each other and it’s quite frankly a miracle that I went to see a movie called BARBIE in the theater at all. I’ll probably never sit through OPPENHEIMER for any reason so I’ve got to get a few points for that, right?

  6. One thing that I keep forgetting to talk about: Am I the only one who found it frustrating how the mom’s “death thoughts” were glossed over? They were a big deal when Barbie had them, but when the mother of a teenage girl has them, it’s just a throwaway line? I mean, what was it even? Was she actually suicidal or was it just some kind of “Will people remember be when I’m gone?” midlife crisis thoughts? Maybe it’s just me and the mental state I currently am, but this was another thing that kinda annoyed me about the movie and felt like another thing that probably would’ve been explored more in depth if the movie wasn’t so overstuffed.

    (I found the Depression Barbie really funny, btw.)

  7. Franchise Fred approves

  8. CJ: it was definitely all over the place, like it wanted to make a million points without particularly fleshing any of them out. We move on from the mom’s morbid thoughts to repairing her relationship with her daughter without anything actually happening to close those circles. And the mom’s speech was accurate for our world but what would a Barbie get out of it? She’s spent her whole life just being effortlessly glamorous and being praised for everything she does. Why would she relate to the sentiments in that speech? And shouldn’t we have been shown some of that stuff before the mom railed against it? I mean, of course she’s right, but isn’t the point of storytelling to, like, dramatize things instead of just explaining them in a monologue? I guess this stuff is so obvious to the target audience as to be not worth depicting in more than a perfunctory fashion but I think it might have landed harder if it had focused on one or two of these things instead of this scattergun approach. But what the fuck do I know? It seems to be working just fine for audience it was intended for.

  9. I do give them props for casting someone who looked like she was America Ferrera’s daughter. That’s an aspect that gets way too often overlooked in movies. Although it’s rarely a dealbreaker for me. But if they nail it, it always gets a bonus point.

  10. The America Ferrera speech is good. I mean the content of it is good, but I wonder if it was a bit too long. Could they have conveyed all that information in a more streamlined way? I don’t know. I agree with Mr. Majestyk that subtlety seems to be a lost art today in entertainment. While her message in the speech is all positive, I think many people’s eyes will glaze over and it might go in one ear and out the other based on its length. Hopefully not, but I work with middle schoolers and attention spans are not growing in length.

  11. Call me crazy, but it seems to me that if you’re going to ding the Transformers movies for having too much sex and violence for the target audience (boys who actually play with Transformers) then isn’t Barbie as bad for being all about social satire stuff that the target audience (girls who actually play with Barbies) won’t get or care about?

    I’m sure if you asked Greta Gerwig, she’d say there aren’t enough movies for little girls. Well, wouldn’t they rather have a movie about Barbie riding a horse and dancing with Ken (source: have nieces) than a bunch of meta business about society and capitalism and motherhood?

    I only bring it up because, whenever someone criticizes a new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles or Superman cartoon, somebody else goes “it’s not for you! It’s for today’s kids!” Well, this isn’t for kids, it’s for adults (women-children?). If that’s a valid creative choice, okay, but now we’re saying it’s fine to make a kid’s movie that’s not for kids. I expect you to reassess your outlook on Transformers: Wrath of the Fallen.

  12. CJ – I don’t remember what all they said about why she was thinking about her mortality, but my take is that it’s a pretty normal thing to deal with in the real world that’s an unknown quantity in Barbieland. Since we’re not Barbies we don’t necessarily need a detailed explanation of it.

    About the speech – I’ve read many women saying it made them cry, and I saw it make my wife cry, and one of the articles talked about how Ferrera made up much of it based on her own experiences and everyone on set was crying. So I figure it’s okay if some of us dudes thought it was merely good.

  13. “I like it when the message of the movie is buried in metaphor so you have to do a little work to suss it out. I’m never gonna fully get behind this thing they do nowadays where they just come right out and tell you the movie’s thesis statement and then support their points with evidence from the text like they’re writing a term paper about THE GREAT GATSBY”

    Amen! This represents the biggest bug up my ass when it comes to many modern movies. It’s when Agenda and Activism coupled with an arrogant assumption that audiences are uniformly obtuse trump any consideration as to Does This work In Moving The Narrative Along or Bring It To A Thudding Halt? It leads to stuff like that Anthony Mackie “You Need To Do Better, Senator” speech at the end of THE FALCON AND THE WINTER SOLDIER” which seemed to go on for 5 hours.

    I submit that if we’re truly going for equality here, then given that almost 30 years after the fact, Seagal still gets shit for his “Protect The Environment” speech at the end of ON DEADLY GROUND, then BARBIE should be called out for the America Ferarra monologue which I am told runs for almost 3 minutes. As long as we start off on an agreed baseline that where a Message is So Obvious It Doesn’t Need To Be Spelt Out is concerned, “Do not abuse, condescend, mansplain, box in, repress, stereotype, sexualize and disrespect Women” is on par with “We have one livable planet, motherfuckers. Don’t shit on it”.

  14. Audiences may not be uniformly stupid but they are stupid. I know a few people who saw Dune who were shocked, SHOCKED when I thought the concept of the shields was cool and they didn’t even realize what was going on with them. Even though in the scene where they are introduced you had Paul do the shield thing on his hand as a test, then Gurney is able to get his blade through Paul’s shield in the fight, and THEN Gurney straight up says “the slow blade penetrates the shield.” Two shows, one blatant tell where characters say what they would clearly already know, and people STILL didn’t get it.

    Now that’s a more difficult concept to get across than the Barbie speech which IS long winded and preachy. But really hard to underestimate how remedial an audience can be.

  15. Even though in the scene where they are introduced you had Paul do the shield thing on his hand as a test, then Gurney is able to get his blade through Paul’s shield in the fight, and THEN Gurney straight up says “the slow blade penetrates the shield.” Two shows, one blatant tell where characters say what they would clearly already know, and people STILL didn’t get it.

    Not to pick nits, but people were confused by that due to the movie’s confusion with it. In that, Brolin gives that speech/audience demo–but then–instead of fight scenes where two guys are doing weird, slow, tai-chi on each other, Moma is taking 18 guys out doing normal, quick, generic movie MMA/kung-fu. At the screening I attended, a girl behind me muttered to her date “I thought the blows had to be moving slowly to penetrate the shields” during that sequence. She understood what the movie was trying to get across, but the movie decided it wanted it’s cake and eat it too by having every character bulletproof, but still susceptible to trailer-worthy kung-fu-ing.

  16. As Vince says, BARBIE works just fine for the audience it was intended for. The only small problem is that a lot of people doesn’t get who that is. In the packed cinema I watched it with my family, the children, who came in with dolls in their hands, didn’t get it and said out loud that it was boring. Some of the mothers, who I guess bought them the dolls, fell asleep without laughing too much. And the fathers, who really needed to see this movie, stayed at home.

    It has been fun to listen to the debate between feminists and the intellectual right wing men who seem to forget about that last message in the movie and almost shout “HA, so you do want to suppress us men” when there are still 10 minutes left. And then the former have to explain (womansplain?) that the subtext is “Women still have to fight for their rights, but men have re-think their whole life”. Not that that makes them any calmer.

  17. jojo I agreee with that, most of the fights seemed to use the concept but I agree that last one with Momoa basically just ignored it. They really needed to do a lot more grappling with those fights. Still, at least that audience member grasped the concept, the people I’m talking about just thought “red means the shield is being hit harder” or something.

    I know one dude who reads sci fi and loves Dune, and he told me a guy like Momoa’s character was supposed to be so good he could strike hard but minutely go slow at the last second to penetrate so you can’t really tell. I called bullshit on that, if the movie wants to do that they need to be explicit about it. They either got lazy or did that concept but look like they’re being lazy.

  18. pegsman, I actually thought about this a lot in the last few days. As mentioned in my first post, my sister and me seemed to be the only ones in the theatre who reacted to anything on screen. I can imagine the few parents who were there with their very young kids (The movie has a 6 rating over here) were probably shocked by certain genital jokes or scenes of Barbie being sexually harassed in the real world. The kids were pretty quiet and I didn’t notice any smartphone lights, so they most likely weren’t too bored by it, but in the final stretch, during the big message moment, they all ran outside. They came back shortly afterward, probably just got some last minute snacks or went to the bathroom, but I expected them to leave early.

    The movie got A LOT of praise, but it all came from adults. And the movie was obviously not made as a pure kids movie. Not even as a kids movie with a few jokes for adults. So for me (41 years old male who is pro-feminism, has a silly sense of humor, but absolutely no relation to Barbie) and my sister (46 years old female who often seems surprisingly anti-feminist, has also a silly sense of humor and loves Barbie) the movie worked. Sadly I don’t know any kids who I could ask what they thought of it.

  19. Maybe it’s me but I never got the sense that this was siupposed to really be a “kid’s movie.” None of the marketing made me think that, nor the PG-13 rating. I don’t see the GI Joe movies or Transformers as being movies for children even though they’re based on toys…just general action flicks. Children may like them, but not geared for them.

  20. Yeah, but I guess a movie like this does come with certain expectations about who its target audience is. And from what I gathered, the PG-13 is these days mostly seen by people as “watered down family shit” anyway, to the point where people actually call for higher ratings when a movie actually does take advantage of it in its classic “It’s almost R, but not really” meaning. And it’s not like the marketing said: “Don’t bring your kids.”

  21. But the movie’s marketing has been murky to say the least. The trailer completely obscured the satire and social commentary, which has worked remarkably well for the film, but it did give an impression this was a kiddie friendly film, leading to some cases where the kids were outright bored and parents who brought them, a little shocked. I know 2 friends who brought their kids and regretted it, but mothers with grown up daughters who made an event of it, all dressed in pink, enjoyed it.

    It’s easier with the TRANSFORMERS flicks. Am sure many kids were bored with the 2 and a half hour run times and some parents squirmed when Bay’s camera leered lovingly at Megan Fox’s ass and scenes of dogs’ humping but it basically promised giant transforming robots kicking the shit out of each other, and after a point, you did get giant transforming robots kicking the shit out of each other.

  22. BTW Vern, not sure if it’s just me, but your search function is shot. I can’t get anything when I type in the search box.

  23. I disagree with PG-13 being seen as watered-down family movies…which makes no sense anyway as a family movie would usually be rated G, so don’t see how PG-13 is watered down, it’s watered UP. Unless we count scary movies like Insidious, harder edged action movies like The Dark Knight or a drama like Dunkirk to be family movies. Families may go to see them, but that’s not the same thing. Movies more meant for general families that’s not just for kids are generally PG. The first Harry Potters were PG until they graduated to more overt violence and scary shit.

    I mean the trailer shows her talking about death and getting her ass slapped by a guy.

  24. I guess they had to promote it like that. “This is satire your kid – or you – might not understand” won’t sell many tickets.

  25. At the risk of repeating myself, if you see just one pop culture-savvy comedy from a smart young female writer/director that takes aim squarely at the Patriarchy this year, see POLITE SOCIETY. I know others here liked it too.

    Fortunately, we don’t have to limit ourselves like that, and BARBIE is fun. I laughed a lot and agree with the positives in this review. The commitment of the cast and the direction that achieved it is, in particular, eye-poppingly strong. But I also recognise a lot of the caveats raised in the comments here. That said, I’m happy I saw this – it’s easily my favourite Gerwig movie now – and I know I am not qualified to say to the makers of this that they are doing feminism wrong.

    One nonsensical criticism I’ve seen of this elsewhere is that its success will open the floodgates of bad toy-based movies. Like we never had any of those before! And like that is in any way the fault of BARBIE! Also, who doesn’t want to see Buckaroo: The Movie?

  26. I can see why people would assume this was a kids movie, but I don’t think it has been marketed like one at all (at least in the U.S.), and I didn’t notice any kids there when I saw it. I did think it was an unusual choice to include some of the things that are not kid friendly (and I personally thought the “beach off” joke – which was in the trailer, so they weren’t hiding it – wasn’t great anyway) but I think they’re just being honest about their intentions, really. It’s an exploration of the idea of Barbie, not an adaptation.

    Borg9 – “Hollywood is just gonna make toy movies now” fear is funny to me too. First of all, most people I’ve seen saying that are passing around an article about all the movies that Mattel Films currently has in development. What, you thought they were gonna use BARBIE to pivot into non-toy movies? It’s their purpose of existence. People had the same worries after LEGO, and all that came out of that were barely-seen PLAYMOBIL, BOBBLEHEADS and UGLYDOLLS movies. I think we can survive a couple bad doll movies that most of us won’t bother to pay attention to anyway if they don’t manage to get an interesting director and premise.

  27. I saw BARBIE sitting next to someone (now adult) whose childhood was as steeped in Barbies as mine was in comics and role-playing games. And it was fun to just be with her as she experienced something like the “this movie makes me feel seen and understood” feeling I had during the Sam Raimi SPIDERMAN 2.

    After the movie (which we both mostly liked quite a bit, with all the caveats others have already mentioned) she commented that if this movie was going to be 100% true to her Barbie life, there would have been a lot more “weird Barbies” – and all the dolls would have been super horny and constantly having sex with GI Joes.

    And, I’m seconding Borg9 – POLITE SOCIETY rules.

  28. I was way more interested in the HEIMER half of BARBENHEIMER, yet I ended up preferring BARBIE. Honestly, BARBIE is not just my favorite film of the year so far, but probably my favorite movie of the last several years. A surprising, cathartic joy. Great performances, brilliant production design, deft handling of tone and theme.

    The Barbie toy both empowered girls to become whoever they wanted and imposed unattainable expectations on them. The movie takes this idea and relates it to the cognitive dissonance of being a woman in today’s America, and the contradictory expectations leveled on women by Western society. America Ferrera’s speech is unsubtle and didactic, sure, but it’s also emotional and true. I found tears streaming down my face by the end of it, crying like Barbie did earlier in the movie, my body having a physical reaction to what was happening without being completely conscious of why it was happening. But just when you think the movie is getting too sentimental, it doubles down on the silliest jokes you’ve ever seen. Loved the big fight and musical number. Any other movie would’ve only kept one of those sequences, but in BARBIE, we get both.

    I honestly think Ryan Gosling deserves an Oscar for this. He commits 1000% to an utterly ridiculous character but he’s still complex and sympathetic. The movie would’ve still been great if Gerwig and Company let the Kens stay the villains/butts of the joke. But instead Ken is treated with radical empathy, even if he doesn’t deserve it– and it heals him. And his story dovetails with Stereotypical Barbie’s, in that one can’t define oneself by a job, relationship, gender role, physical appearance, societal structure, peer pressure, other’s expectations, etc. One’s self-worth is determined by… oneself. It’s fine to be Regular-Ass Barbie instead of Nobel Prize Barbie, and it’s fine to be Just Ken. It doesn’t mean you can’t dream or try to improve yourself or change, but you shouldn’t devalue yourself either. That’s a message I needed to hear, and I didn’t expect it to come from a wacky doll movie, but I appreciate it just the same.

  29. IF Mattel is going to make a bunch of movies it will be hilarious to see what they do with Magic 8-Ball…although remember how they tried to make Battleship and it was just a generic aliens vs the military movie? Ouija was TECHNICALLY a game movie because Ouija the name was for a game.

    They have a few they could do for real…it woud be interesting to see a genuine attempt at a decent movie wit Masters of the Universe. I sorta liked the Dolph piece of shit for the first ten minutes when they were on the actual planet…Lower budgeted movies than that were being made where they just shot in deserts and woods for most of it, couldn’t they have pulled thta off at least?

    “We have to hide in the Woods of Eternia!”

  30. I just hope we won’t get a BABADOOK situation, where after one really great drama about grief and mental illness that disguised itself perfectly as horror flick, we got dozens of of crappy movies that tried to do the same and failed annoyingly. Fingers crossed there won’t be a HOT WHEELS movie that is actually a satire about our society’s car fetish or whatever. You somehow managed to make it work for BARBIE, but unless you have someone who can pull off such a miracle again, don’t do it. Not sure if we really need a HE-MAN movie that has a scene where some kid tells him how questionable it is that he is a blond and blue eyed Übermensch with an iron cross on his chest.

  31. CJ, I think BARBIE is probably a special case because that toy has had a major role in American (and world?) culture since its origin and has continued to be a center of debate around gender roles and female identity for decades. So the topic merits the issues raised by Greta Gerwig and company.

    None of the other Mattel properties have that status. Maybe HE-MAN / MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE comes closest, but honestly most of the properties on that list of proposed films are things I’ve never even heard of, maybe because I was either too young or too old for them.

  32. Also Vern, I will second whoever said it in another thread: The search feature doesn’t seem to be working currently. Instead of search results it just brings up a black screen.

  33. I think the problem with Mattel announcing more toy-based movies is not really “oh no, more shitty toy-based movies, that’s so unprecedented and terrible” but more “they had a perfect opportunity to realize that it’s ok to let directors and writers have free rein and put some thought and elbow grease in the product, it will still make tons of money, but instead it simply led them to believe they could make a billion dollars with an UNO movie”. It’s not unprecedented either though, it happens pretty much every time a cool director goes mainstream and manages to make a movie that’s both good and commercially successful, and next thing you know it’s “let’s slap a cool indie name on every Star Wars and Marvel product, but DO NOT let them make their own movie, it has to fit our mould of bland, soulless but watchable content”.

  34. I don’t think the Mattel suits are stupid. They gave Gerwig space to make her own movie and it paid off. The problem is, that’s lightning in a bottle. Barbie is a one-of-a-kind toy that’s freighted with the sociological and thematic weight of multiple generations of feminist ideals. You’re not gonna replicate that with Polly Pocket. You’re just gonna get a lot of desperate flop sweat trying to make a bunch of plastic detritus with no inherent cultural value mean something.

  35. You can’t replicate Barbie with Polly Pocket or He-Man or Chatter Telephone, but another studio could see Barbie and decide to experiment with, say, Star Wars, and you’d still be likely to sell tons of Star Wars branded plastic detritus, but end up with something more interesting than Star Wars 7-8-9. Instead they’ll just give money to Daniels or Boots Riley or Radha Blank and be like, “DO NOT color outside the lines, we want your name on the poster, but for the actual movie what we need is something insipid that will maintain the stability of our intellectual property’s value. Also don’t forget to repeat in every interview that you love the property and listen to what the fans want.”

  36. Yeah, I think in defense of the pure artistic integrity Mattel Films, the Uno movie and all that shit was in the works at the same time as BARBIE, so it’s possible they’re approaching those with the same philosophy of letting interesting artists do interesting things with these projects/products. But I agree with Majestyk, Barbie has a unique place in the culture and they chose the exact right person to do the exact right thing with it. I don’t expect any of the others to make a mark at all. (Unless they give HE-MAN to somebody good, but it would have to be a shameless barbarians-with-lasers movies, not a commentary like BARBIE, unless as subtext.)

  37. I just got around to seeing it. Mostly I didn’t care for it. Bottom line is I didn’t find it that entertaining. As a comedy, I give it points for Kate McKinnon who was brilliant in her smallish role as Weird Barbie, and I admit I laughed when Ken and Barbie failed miserably at buying “normal” clothes in the real world. But beyond that it was pretty flat comedically for me: this is subjective, but I guess that the “gag” of seeing giant versions of toy houses and cars and call-outs to old Barbie outfits doesn’t tickle my particular funny bone (even if it all looked good). The fish out of water stuff in the real world was run through pretty hastily and didn’t do that much. Also, I gotta say this, after all these years I’m kind if tired of Will Ferrell’s schtick.

    To the extent it was supposed to be a message movie it was pretty useless. It’s really unsophisticated thesis is: Real World Sexist, Patriarchy Bad. Okay, anything you’d like to add? While I agree there’s a lot of fucked up sexist shit in the real world, the movie doesn’t even deal with it really because there is no “real world” in this movie. All of the stuff outside of Barbie land is still a ridiculous cartoon where Will Ferrelll’s executive has 30 unrealistic clones of himself in the exact same suit, where a random guy Ken meets in a building lobby talks with him openly about how “Oh, we’re still doing the patriarchy thing, we’ve just gotten better at hiding it,” and where another guy on the beach smacks Barbie’s ass in full view of dozens of people and no one, not even any of the women, react (as though there was never a Me Too movement and nobody on this Earth has any conception of sexual harassment). In this movie’s “real world” there are apparently no women executives, no women business owners, and no women Supreme Court justices (implied by dialogue near the end when President of Barbieland refuses the Kens representation on Barbie Supreme Court, and the narrator assures us this is no more sexist than the real world—I guess this movie’s real world has no Justices Kagan, Sontomayor Barrett or Brown). So, as a “statement,” I found this to be sort of a groaner, sort of an eye roller.

    What this movie reminded me, of all things, was JJ Abrams’ THE FORCE AWAKENS. I kept thinking about it after. Both movies were examples of high-pressure, perhaps overwhelming properties being handed over to talented filmmakers who were given a lot of freedom to do what they wanted with it. And in both instances I think the filmmakers choked, failed to come up with anything interesting to say, and instead retreated to the safety zone of pandering to certain audiences. Abrams didn’t come up with any new ideas so he said, just throw more tie-fighters at the screen and shit and don’t think too deeply about, they’ll eat that up. And kind of similarly, Gerwig got through act one of her script to the point where Barbie is about to leave Barbieland, had nothing, and said, fuck it, if my characters talk about the patriarchy a lot, that’ll be enough to carry me with a lot of critics. They both ended up being big bright movies that looked good but left me bored.

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