I Saw the Barbie Movie – Barbie Deserves Better

Chris Byrne, John Baulch, James Zahn, and I thought it would be interesting to our readers if we were to link our reviews and create a meta-review. See the bottom of this review for the links.

I have been, for some time now, a big Barbie supporter. I see her and her creator, Ruth Handler, as heroes of the “Women’s Rights Movement.” While Gloria Steinem was introducing the word “Ms.” and Betty Friedan was publishing her landmark work, “The Feminine Mystique,” Barbie was quietly teaching little girls a different societal role – No more baby dolls teaching nurture and motherhood; Barbie modeled single womanhood and ambition.

With this mindset, I was excited to attend the first showing on the first day of the movie’s opening in New York (I even wore a pink shirt). The audience was varied in age and gender, with some children but not many (this is not a movie for young kids).  

I found the beginning of the movie to be engaging. Barbie World was populated by living toys manipulated by invisible children’s hands. Unfortunately, that didn’t last long. As the movie progressed, humans and dolls intersected, interacted and overacted. By the film’s end, there was the barest separation between being human and being a toy.

This movie’s writers seemed intent on showing us how clever they were. They tried to make us laugh by burlesquing Mattel management, feel shocked by their heavy-handed use of double entendres (some of which were repeated endlessly), feel startled by Barbie’s stated lack of a vagina, impressed when one of the characters quoted Proust, be turned off by the brutality of the Kens, and feel shocked when Ruth Handler mentions her double mastectomy and troubles with the I.R.S. (twice within minutes).  

And let’s talk about the men in this movie. All the females were brilliant. All the men were thugs and/or morons except for Alan, a Barbie supporter whom all Barbies ignored. It did not pay to be a male in this movie.  

Did a movie championing Barbie and women need to do so by giving her such weak competition? Whether it was the Mattel management acting like the Keystone Cops or the Kens suddenly discovering the patriarchy (how many times was that word used), Barbie was never threatened.

Margot Robbie is the quintessential Barbie. Her performance was brilliant, playing a character that had emerging depth as she discovered her humanity. On the other hand, Ryan Gosling portrayed an out-of-control, sad sack, goofball, Ken. Where Barbie shared her thoughts about life and death, Ken talked about horses. He was a burlesque of a man (doll), spending most of his time portraying a shallow sense of self and the world. When Barbie and Ken were together, he was needy; she was cold.  B-r-r-r-r-r-r.

And what was the message? As we got up to leave, my wife turned to me and said, “What an odd ending; what was the message I was supposed to get? I responded: “Let’s go home.”  

Chris Byrne – “Barbie Comes Into Her Own.”

“John Baulch – “Life In Plastic, It’s Fantastic , It’s the Friday Blog

James Zahn – “Barbie: The Movie — My Take

5 thoughts

  1. Study the Bechdel Test – google it – it rates movies based on whether films have more than one female, and those females get a chance to speak to each other about anything other than a man. The Barbie movie flips the typical script, making the male the object for the female lead to use as a foil. It feels somewhat insulting to be on the losing team for once, so of course the movie must be crummy.

    1. Yes, I agree that was part of the point of the movie. It’s was pretty explicit. I thought the movie was brilliant, but it was more about being a human than about toys. The message was about not defining yourself by labels or other people, both for Barbie and Ken.

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