Reviewed by Cliff Homewood
Come on Barbie, let’s go party…
It’s a fun film. There’s a world where women rule and men (Ken) are just accessories. Barbieland! Barbie leaves this nirvana for the real world. Right, that’s the story out of the way! The film compares this matriarchy with our patriarchy, to much amusement. Impressively a feminist discourse whilst being entertaining. You are always waiting for the next joke, it’s constantly satirising. Not all the gags work. You can make your own judgement, dependent on your reaction to the two trailers. We had the superb 2001 trailer and the lacklustre double-entendre trailer. This gives good coverage of the humour, the latter more frequent, often not landing. The quality of the more imaginative jokes alone makes Barbie worth seeing before we even get to the intelligent script. Pleasingly the material from both trailers is at the beginning of the film.
Only recently did I learn Barbie’s last name is Oppenheimer. Ryan Gosling is hilarious as Ken, his chest looks plastic, and fun’s made of his ineffectual vanity. I’m not sure whether Barbie is stating women don’t need men (poor Ken!) or role reversal with the man showing of his body in an attempt to be loved. Ironically the only female cleavage in the movie is after a line of feminist dialogue.
The film is a reflection on a women’s place in the world. First target is Barbie (poor Barbie!) Her torso gives unreasonable expectations considering her disproportionate anatomy makes her unable to stand. There’s no reason why Barbie couldn’t have a fuller figure (other than manufacturing costs). But do you really want a plastic doll as a role model? I could counter-argue Plato’s ideal. He posited whenever you think of anything, say a horse, you are not thinking of a real horse but an idealistic abstract. Barbie is perhaps that abstract personified.
Girls get dolls as a role model, what do boys get? Toy soldiers. As a pacifist, I agree with Bill Hicks description, ‘hired killers’, so not totally happy with that situation. Girls get baby dolls and subliminal training to be mothers and housewives, boys to worship war and violence. We all experience implicit cultural expectations. The film speaks to the female experience well according to the round of applause a rant got in the film. Said rant wasn’t for me, never really cared what others think. I accept some people like you and some won’t and you should walk your own path.
I’m not sure about some of the language used in this film. Lenny Bruce stated we should keep using derogatory terms until they lose all meaning, removing the barb, becoming mundane. But experience has taught me that horrid terms fall out of use, if they don’t get heard they can’t be used. When Barbie uses derogatory terminology, it’s keeping that view alive (kinda the opposite of 1984’s newspeak). When’s the last time you heard the word jezebel? Maybe picked for its quaintness but perpetuating.
Societal innovation when I was growing up was feminism, now it’s trans rights. When these two conflict my older generation are likely to take the feminists’ side as we grew up being told this is important and it is. The younger generation are growing up with trans rights being the important issue and it is. Creating a culture clash between generations. As the world assimilates it over-reacts for a while, sorting out extreme situations, as we establish a new normal.
Barbie is about feministic ideals, about for a long time yet we still haven’t got there, as it acknowledges. Progress has been made, Firemen now Firefighters, Policemen Police Officers, but a manhole is still a manhole as peoplehole sounds stupid. Conservatives are meant to be conserving the status quo however we’ve had two female PMs and now a minority, albeit rich, PM. Labour should hang their head in shame.
Feminism has a double standard, not campaigning against nightclubs with free entry to women or women only sessions, when it got Men Only clubs closed decades ago. The culture has changed, modern ‘ism’ thinking compensates in some areas for other areas where there’s a deficiency. This approach can lead to resentment.
It’s funny how feminism disappears when there’s a large queue for the Ladies toilets. Men are not welcome in the Ladies as abused women feel it’s their safe place. The more women we see in the Mens’ the healthier as it means they don’t fear men?
I have wondered as a man if there’s a Begbie itching for a fight and I go to the bar and ask for Angela would they do anything? If you are called Angela and work behind a bar it’s hard to maintain a clientele of regulars as they keep getting shepherded out.
Barbie shows balance with its treatment of Ken and I hurrah its role reversal moment. Inclusivity being key and what we strive for. Alan, Ken’s best friend, seems to represent the invisible in society (eg. immigrants & gypsies). The film has good diversity casting. We fleetingly see a disabled Barbie and there’s an eye-opening revelation on the various failed Barbies tried.
You care about the film’s quests and it’s complex enough with multiple storylines. Whilst Barbies entering the Mattel board meeting is great, the executive scenes slow the movie, but not a major element. Kudos to Mattel executives for allowing artistic freedom, the right decision, rarely given.
Kate McKinnon steals the show as Barbie’s guru. Margot Robbie is well cast as Barbie, the former Harley Quinn shows she can carry a movie effortlessly. The Gloria/Sasha mother/daughter storyline is very believable, helping to earth the film. For those taking children be prepared for a possibly awkward question at the end.
Barbie works beyond expectations. Jokes may fall flat but there’s a couple of absolute gems. A well-balanced film, both entertaining and intellectual, where you root for its heroes with engaging humour.