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Review: Barbie, how to explain patriarchy right

  • Release year: 2023
  • Director: Greta Gerwig.
  • Producers: Tom Ackerley, Robbie Brenner, David Heyman and Margot Robbie.
  • Screenplay by: Great Gerwig and Noah Baumbach.
  • Cinematographer: Rodrigo Prieto.
  • Music by: Mark Ronson and Andrew Wyatt.

Synopsis: Stereotypical Barbie’s life begins to fall apart when she starts getting thoughts of death. She must travel to the real world to solve the problem.

Shotgun Commentary: a must-watch for any woman who’s having a bad day and for any man who still thinks patriarchy is a construct.

Fig. 1. Barbie (Margot Robbie) frustrated because Ken (Ryan Gosling) invited himself to her adventure. Source: Barbie (Greta Gerwig, 2023). Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.

Review

Barbie is Greta Gerwig’s love letter to all women. It finally acknowledges all the struggles that we go through just because of our gender, nothing more and nothing less. It has a very clear focus and it excels at proving its point.

Not only that, but it is also the first motion picture ever to acknowledge men’s struggle to achieve the surreal goals established by a system that ultimately benefits no one.

Surprise, surprise

The film is full of moments that bring forth behaviours that women have internalised so deeply that we do not even question them anymore. The phrase “I worked very hard for this so I deserve it” said with pride and confidence is seldomly heard in women. Likewise, a woman expressing her opinion passionately and not being infantilised or branded “too emotional” is a rarity.

Fig. 2. Barbie showing the other Barbies her flat feet. Source: Barbie
(Greta Gerwig, 2023). Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.

Even in our relationships, telling your partner that you’d rather they leave feels wrong. There is always that need to give an explanation, like not fancying their company at that moment isn’t enough. Actions that make no sense objectively are seen as normal, which is why Barbie is such an eye-opener.

You are seen

The constant feeling of fear and anxiety, as well as the impossibility of behaving and wearing whatever you want without everybody having an opinion and feeling the irrepressible urge to tell you about it, are things that women take for granted when they shouldn’t be so. Barbie shows all of these and more to help people realise how wrong some behaviours treated as ordinary really are.

It would be naive to think that this feature will educate and civilise everyone. Nevertheless, it succeeds in helping already empathetic people recognise what they might unknowingly be doing that hurts other people.

Fig. 3. Weird Barbie giving Stereotypical Barbie a choice. Source: Barbie
(Greta Gerwig, 2023). Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.

Barbie also discusses existential crises and the constant feeling of not being enough. This theme is portrayed by both Barbie and Ken. The first one talks about how being a woman involves the need to be extraordinary to justify your existence. The latter, about the hardships of following unrealistic goals that won’t really fill you or make you happy.

All these themes are very astutely masked with layers of humour, cinematic references and glitter. Still, they remain very clear for those interested enough to listen to them.

Once upon a time…

The movie not only appeals to your intellectual self, but also to your childish self. For all the children who played with dolls, the dream houses, the decorations, the streets, the means of transport… Everything about Barbie Land is exactly how it was in your imagination. Even Weird Barbie’s decorations and the structure of her house look like the actual result of playing too hard with a Barbie. It’s all just a trip to childhood and memories long forgotten…and a trip in general to be honest.

Fig. 4. Barbie saying hello to Barbie Land. Source: Barbie (Greta Gerwig, 2023).
Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.

A fantasy that is further developed through the flawless work of the costume, hairstyle and makeup departments. The reinvention of every single Barbie and Ken outfit is just brilliant. It is an immense amount of work to create so many outfits. Even so, the results are completely and unapologetically Barbie™. Same goes for the make up and hilariously perfect hairstyles. Even Weird Barbie has the exact look every weird Barbie had, which is a punch of nostalgia that feels incredible.

Barbies are everthing

While Margot Robbie plays Barbie superbly, the undeniable heart of the film is America Ferrera in her role of Gloria.

The fact that she worked for over 9 months gathering information from personal experiences to create the most relatable, real, honest, raw speech about the female experience nowadays deserves all the audience’s appreciation.

Fig. 5. Barbie introducing herself to Sasha. Source: Barbie (Greta Gerwig, 2023).
Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.

Unsatisfied with that, she also showcases the experience of raising a girl and how hard it is to be a mom. The lack of extra problems that distract from that experience accentuates just how fair and valid it is to be an ordinary mom in a biparental household where there are no major dramas. Because being an ordinary mom is challenging enough, and it is time that someone acknowledged that.

And so is Ken

Ryan Gosling in the role of Ken balances humour and emotional development creating a surprisingly fascinating journey for the doll. Ken begins as a representation of the invisibility of women in terms of the power structures of the world we live in.

However, after he discovers patriarchy, he becomes enthralled by it, falling for its deceptive promises like most teenagers do for the misleading advice of misogynist influencers and famous personalities who impress them with their material possessions.

Fig. 6. Ken trying to be cool in front of Barbie. Source: Barbie (Greta Gerwig, 2023). Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.

As a result of this, he begins to feel the pressure to become a symbol of masculinity, a concept that he mistakenly believes is about the patriarchal ideas of being a man: muscles, shiny possessions, power and a complete disregard for women’s opinions. He is soon proven wrong by Barbie, who shows him that he is so much more than his property, partner or job.

Gosling portrays this rollercoaster of ideologies, feelings and experiences in the most carefree and fun way possible by over-dramatising Ken’s reactions and making a lot of jokes that serve as examples of the foolishness of the patriarchal expectations.

Food for thought

The climax of Gosling’s commentary on men’s struggles under this system is the song “I’m just Ken” in which he not only talks, but also represents through dance choreography, the toxic lengths to which men go to perform that idea of masculinity they are taught to want.

Fig. 7. Ken (Simu Liu) having a dance off against Ken. Source: Barbie
(Greta Gerwig, 2023). Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.

All in all, both Barbie and Ken learn about the constant uncertainty and changes of life. An idea that is summarised at the end through Billie Eilish’s song “What Was I Made For?”. A track that conveys the idea that the older we get, the more we realise how unsafe, changing and unreliable everything is. Sometimes you get lost and can’t remember who you are or what your purpose was and it is this film’s job to remind you that it is ok to be lost and misunderstand what life is about sometimes.

Fig. 8. Choreographed dance in Barbie’s Dreamhouse. Source: Barbie
(Greta Gerwig, 2023). Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.

Advice to take from this movie:

  • Flats can look cool, you just have to find the correct outfit to compliment them.
  • Ken is overrated, find yourself an Alan and your life will be just fine.
  • Mini fridges are the big scam of house appliances.
Fig. 9. A trio of Kens preparing to attack other Kens. Source: Barbie
(Greta Gerwig, 2023). Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.

What’s your take? Have you watched Barbie? Don’t hesitate to let me know your thoughts in the comments section below or leave a message in my contact page! For more reviews and cinema-related articles check out the rest of my blog! 😀

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