Anyone who doesn’t know about the Barbie doll has likely been living under a rock for the last 50 years. This iconic plastic toy, with her inimitable long legs, has penetrated nearly every household. Her manufacturer, Mattel, capitalized on this fame with a slew of animated films—though many would argue that these films have more in common with commercials than with true animation. But this year, Barbie finally gets her first feature film, and it’s unlike anything you’ve seen before.
With a long history behind her, Barbie has accrued her fair share of stereotypes over the years. So it was intriguing to see how Mattel and Warner Bros would adapt her for the big screen. Early trailers indicated a departure from the cringe-worthy animated adaptations, but few could have anticipated a feminist satire critiquing stereotypical perceptions of women. The film’s director and screenwriter Greta Gerwig (Little Women), along with co-screenwriter Noah Baumbach (Marriage Story), approached Barbie as a vibrant spectacle, reminiscent of La La Land.
The screenwriting duo Gerwig and Baumbach take on the societal views of Barbie as their central motif. The doll exists as a paradox: an idealized prototype of a woman, and yet a troubling product of a multinational corporation. Margot Robbie as Stereotypical Barbie tackles these questions head-on, encouraging the audience to ponder alongside her.
The film kicks off in Barbie Land, a utopian realm where various Barbies live worry-free lives. But things take a turn when Barbie begins to grapple with existential questions. Seeking counsel from Weird Barbie, portrayed by Kate McKinnon, she ventures into the real world and the film evolves into a whirlwind of subversive ideas and Mattel-like visuals.
The film’s audacity is to be applauded; it’s a bold move by Warner Bros and Mattel to turn an iconic doll into a critique of a patriarchal society. While it’s uncertain what this will do for Barbie sales, the film leaves a lasting impression. Margot Robbie, Ryan Gosling, and a host of comical supporting characters deliver stellar performances that make the viewer forget they are watching a film about a toy.
However, the film’s approach to feminism and male stereotypes feels a bit heavy-handed. Although the vibrant visuals and stellar cast mitigate this to an extent, the narrative leans too far into a black-and-white worldview. It’s an adult critique posing as child’s play; if Gerwig and Baumbach wanted to break free from childhood innocence, they could have opted for a more nuanced approach. But then again, maybe I’m just an offended Ken who can’t handle the idea of Barbie getting her own movie.
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