Barbie’s everything. He’s just Ken
In the last weeks, the world has been tickled—and painted—pink. Can we blame anyone (including ourselves)? After all, this is the first live-action Barbie movie on the one doll that continues to make headlines and controversies.
And in this film, Mattel is very aware of themselves and their shortcomings. Actually, self-awareness is a very consistent and hilarious theme in the almost two-hour run of Barbie.
In the synopsis of the film, we learn that Barbie and Ken are living their perfect lives in Barbie Land. But when things start to go awry, the two stereotypical dolls make their way to the Real World, discovering the very real frustrations and perils of humans.
The film opens with a brief history of dolls. How, before the onset of Barbie-mania, all dolls were babies, which left little girls playing mothers while they themselves were still babies. But then came Barbie and everything she stood for: women can be anything, because Barbie was everything. She’s a senator, a lawyer, and astronaut, an athlete—and everything in between.
After we see a giant Margot Robbie appear in the desolate world (and some frightening scenes of children smashing their baby dolls), we witness Barbie having one perfect day in the midst of all other versions of Barbie and Ken (and some discontinued Mattel dolls). The Kens of this land are second thoughts, and their entire lives depend on Barbie paying any attention to them. They have no jobs, no responsibilities. Like the tag line goes: She’s everything. He’s just Ken.
When Barbie asks that game-changing death question, everything comes to a halt. And after a cringe-inducing moment with Barbie (No, Ken, you cannot spend the night. Every night is girls’ night!), the changes in Barbie go from mental to physical. Her foot isn’t perpetually bent, her invisible shower is cold, she falls off her Dream House. A visit to Weird Barbie (Kate McKinnon) lets her know that the only way to fix it (lest she become Weird Barbie herself) is visiting the Real World and finding her owner.
But the Real World is the opposite of Barbie Land. The men still hold higher positions—kudos for making sure that only men sat at the Mattel boardroom table, a company that literally caters to little girls—and women aren’t all things at once. Ken feels empowered in the real world (and has a weird obsession with horses and the idea of patriarchy), and decides to bring all his new-found realizations to Barbie Land.
And Barbie is left with more than one problem to fix: to right the wrong happening in her own world, and the sinking feeling that Barbies have not made women of the Real World feel as empowered as they thought.
But enough about the story. Let’s get into why this film deserves a watch in spite of all the media hype.
Barbie is hilarious because it doesn’t take itself too seriously, and the costume and set design is immaculate. The Narrator (Helen Mirren) makes light fun of what’s happening on screen, Ryan Gosling dances, the Kens fight with beach inflatables, the discontinued Mattel dolls just want to be seen, nobody knows how they get anywhere and how they get dressed, and Barbie isn’t perfect. The cast was cast to perfection (although some cameos felt unnecessary), and everyone plays their characters to a tee. And because director Greta Gerwig was at the helm, there was—of course—a moment of silence that followed Gloria (America Ferrera)’s “It’s hard to be a woman! We have to be everything all at once, and with a smile on our face!” soliloquy.
But while women were at the forefront in Barbie—She’s everything. He’s just Ken—the film also acknowledges that feminism doesn’t mean a woman beating a man to the top; it means sharing the stage. So, yes, there are lessons to be learned all around, but there’s so much fun to have, too.
So come on, Barbie. Time to party.
“Barbie” is showing in theaters now.
Art Alexandra Lara