Barbie opens, the screen flickering black to an image of a larger-than-life Margot Robbie dressed in the original one-piece from her 1959 release. The backdrop of a barren planet nodding to 2001: A Space Odyssey, setting the tone, alerting the viewer that deeper references commence through the film’s progression. Barbie uses this nod to the 1968 film implicating that it is going to turn the notion of a male-centered film on its head.
Barbie begins her tale in Barbieland, where everything seems perfect but as the story continues, nothing is as it seems as thoughts of existential dread invade her mind. She starts to lose her ability to see her world through rose-colored glasses. A realization embodied when her usually “high heel ready” feet fall flat just before she decides to leave Barbieland.
As Barbie reaches the real world, she is confronted with a patriarchal reality. Men gawk at her, sizing her up as she roller skates by, while Ken, played by Ryan Gosling, remains unhindered.
Barbie succeeds in drawing connections to real world dilemmas that women feel every day as a result of their treatment by society. A world dominated by men personified when Barbie saw her creation resulting from the men sitting in the Mattel board room.
One major talking point of Barbie must be its tone and comedic presentation of very serious subject matter. In terms of the film, presenting this topic of a women’s experience as a comedy was intentional. With what women experience daily from men, putting them in situations that they didn’t ask to be in, approaching them alone late at night, and making them feel uncomfortable, humor is often how they deal with it. Barbie emulated this through its storytelling, saying that even though the patriarchy seems like a giant monster that you need to defeat or abide by, you can keep going, and you can be whatever and whoever you want to be.
Although it is one of its greatest triumphs, it could be one of its greatest downfalls. Because of its comedic tone, most critics and most men who have gone to see the film may lose much of the seriousness of the subject matter.
Notwithstanding, Mattel needed Barbie to reach a wide audience, meaning that the film had to be appropriate for children as well. This at times hurt the film, not allowing it to go as deep or stay on those harsh moments, allowing them to breathe and achieve the emotional response that the film needed. If they had let the America Ferreira speech sit for a few more minutes, I would have fully cried but instead, I was laughing before I got there. The rapid tone shifting lessens the emotional impact, especially if you are a male viewer who has less of a basis to understand America’s motivations.
Barbie had a problem finishing plotlines. When first meeting the Mattel executives, the viewer is lead to believe that they and Barbie will end up engaging in some sort of final conflict. When the executives finally make it to Barbieland, all they did was witness the destruction that the Kens caused in the now-christened “Kendom.”
Another not fully baked plot line was Alan’s, played by Michael Cera. Given only a few comedic throw away lines, Alan was nothing more that the butt end of a joke. Although, playing the role of a character not accepted by the Kens and not fully included by the Barbies, Alan was a missed opportunity to give representation to those that feel excluded from heterosexual culture.
As a person who is often excluded from heterosexual culture, with a few more lines, Alan could’ve been that representation that I craved throughout the film, not relating to the Kens or the Barbies. Alan, like so many plotlines, was an afterthought.
One could also make the argument that yes, this is a woman lead film centering women, but no matter the gender of the characters in the film, the work as a whole, I believe, benefits from completely fleshed-out characters.
With all this said, I’m not saying Barbie is a bad film because I found it to be extremely funny, somewhat on the nose at times, and all together truly illuminating for the experience of, and uplifting to, the women in my life.
Although I do believe Barbie might have benefited from being 20 to 30 minutes longer to flesh out characters like Issa Rae as President Barbie and other Barbies that had less screen time.
The Kens as a whole should have had less screen time altogether as some of their antics went on for too long. Sorry not sorry, we didn’t need “Kenough,” it was already “Ken-enough.” My thoughts, give the Barbies more screen time, give more screen time to Michael Cera, and use the extra time to close the open plot holes.
By Dillin Bett