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  • Writer's pictureRua Fay

"Barbie:" Life in Plastic, Not so Fantastic

Updated: Jul 30, 2023

As you are probably aware, Greta Gerwig's highly anticipated film, Barbie finally hit theaters after months of the most relentless advertising I've ever seen. Barbie is the kind of movie that you'd have to be living under a rock to not notice. Ever since the very first trailer debuted in December 2022, Barbie has been the name on everyone's lips. Despite the film having the single most advertising I've ever seen for a blockbuster, relatively little was given away to audiences in terms of what the plot was going to be. Through promotional materials, we got to know the characters, the world, the cast, but not the story, which probably elevated the anticipation of audience members. After having seen the film not too long ago, it's safe to say that Barbie is nothing like I expected...

Ever since the release of Lady Bird, Greta Gerwig has been one of Hollywood's most revered directors, currently working in the industry. When you get a beloved director to create a film about an even more beloved and recognizable doll, you've got a recipe for magic. Barbie's publicity campaign was absolutely relentless, from T-shirts, to vinyl, to memes, to commercials, to food items at chain restaurants, you couldn't go anywhere without seeing the iconic pink logo for a few months. And none of it seemed to be in vain considering that the film became the biggest opening for both Margot Robbie, Ryan Gosling, and Greta Gerwig. In fact, it achieved the impressive feat of being the biggest film opening from a female director. The phenomenon of "Barbenheimer" was also born when it was revealed that Christopher Nolan's Oppenheimer would also be opening on July 21st, sparking a meme that now has its own dedicated wikipedia page. Needless to say, Barbie has been an extreme financial success on top of also being a critical success, scoring an 89% on Rotten Tomatoes.

Whether or not you care about Barbie, it will go down in history for its critical and box office success. But what about the plot? What actually goes on in the pink, plastic wonderland of Barbie and Ken? Well, it's much deeper than you think. The best way I can describe it is: she's a Barbie girl...leaving the Barbie world. Life in plastic is not so fantastic. Basically, Barbie has begun experiencing existential dread, becoming "imperfect," so she embarks on a mission to the real world in order to find whoever is playing with her to find out what's wrong and cheer her up. Throughout the first half of the movie, Margot Robbie's character of "Stereotypical Barbie" is convinced that everyone is going to love her and that as a brand, Barbie has been something that has done nothing but good for the human race and that she will be welcomed with open arms. Unfortunately, this is not the truth. As soon as her and Ken enter the real world, they are harassed, groped, and when Barbie encounters her doll's owner, she berates Barbie about all the harm she has done to women since her creation, of course leaving Barbie confused and hurt. Everything she knew about the real world is turned on its head and she is devastated. Meanwhile, Ken, who has been taught his whole life to be a backup act for Barbie, discovers the patriarchy and returns to Barbieland to teach the Kens that in the real world, men are superior, and their world should follow suit.

Barbie's plot is delightfully wacky and weird, but this ridiculous movie is also surprisingly intelligent, heartfelt, and carries an important message for the audience. While it's true that Mattel as a company has been trying for over a decade to change the brand of Barbie to one of empowerment and diversity, the dolls have done a lot of damage in their six decades on toy store shelves. When Barbie enters the real world, she is informed by a teenage girl about how Barbie's impossibly flat stomach, long legs, platinum blonde hair, and wide thigh gap have been giving little girls body issues for decades and created an impossible beauty standard for women. Many women can easily point to playing with Barbie dolls as the first time they became self conscious of their own bodies. Margot Robbie, herself, even expresses reservations about playing the character due to the doll's iconic, unrealistic physique. It was nice to see that this wasn't an aspect of Barbie that was simply glossed over in the film and was actually addressed very prominently. It was also a nice, noticeable change to see that the dolls in Greta Gerwig's Barbieland come in all shapes, sizes, and colors. However, that is far from the only amazing thing the film has to offer.

The cast of Barbie are absolutely flawless in their roles. Michael Cera as obscure doll, Allan, Kate McKinnon as Weird Barbie, Will Ferrell as the CEO of Mattel, and of course, Ryan Gosling as Ken. Gosling's performance is so magnetic and hilarious that people are genuineluy rooting for him to take the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor next winter. His song, "I'm Just Ken" is hilarious and has been on a constant loop in my head since my first listen. And of course, Margot Robbie is excellent, but perhaps the most impactful performance was America Ferrera as Gloria, the human who has been playing with Stereotypical Barbie all along. Towards the end of the film she gives a speech about just how difficult it is to be a woman in the world and how there are all of these impossible contradictions such as, you need to be thin but not too thin or else you're anorexic, but if you're not thin, you're fat, and you need to be outgoing or else people will think you're a prude but if you're not then you're a slut. It's a speech that supposedly took over 50 takes to perfect but it's easily one of the most impactful moments of the film. An ordinary woman telling Barbie, the symbol of the "perfect woman" just how difficult it is to be herself in the real world. I can't thank America Ferrera and Greta Gerwig enough for that scene. As Barbie gets to know Gloria, the more she starts to embrace her so-called "imperfections" such as her new flat feet and cellulite.

To me, the only thing that tops Gloria's speech is the scene where Barbie reflects on what it's like to be a real, imperfect woman while Billie Eilish's What Was I Made For plays. It's a scene that's true beauty only reveals itself to the women who have experienced the ups and downs of living as their authentic, selves. Those who have had to overcome all of those impossible contradictions Gloria talked about. I'd be lying if I said it didn't almost bring me to tears.

Not only does this film have a ginormous amount of heart, it also has no shortage of laughs, social commentary, and genuine fun. Barbie is a guaranteed great time at the movies this summer. As a film, Greta Gerwig's Barbie is about finding beauty in the imperfect aspects of yourself, finding your inner strength, and realizing that you were made for more than just sitting still and looking pretty. Personally, I think it's kind of genius to make a movie about imperfections and make the main character literally a Barbie Doll. It really is more than a movie, it's a love letter to the women of the world regardless of their shape, size, or color. In our own ways, we are all our own ideal Barbie.

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