The cinema hall was full of people dressed in various hues of pink, almost as though they had wandered out of Barbieland and into the real world to see Greta Gerwig’s latest film — Barbie. This isn’t the first time Barbie has been in a movie, in fact, there are 42 films with her in the lead already, but only this happens to be the first live-action iteration.
The Barbie film plays on nostalgia, with Margot Robbie embodying various versions of Barbie both on and off the screen. In the run-up to the release, the world saw a Barbie Blitzkrieg — brands were vying with each other to make you bring your very own piece of Barbie home; be it shoes, clothes, makeup, accessories, a special edition Xbox, pool floaties (Barbie’s golf cart in your pool? In Ken’s words: “Sublime!” Incidentally, the floaties were absent in the film as the residents of Barbieland can’t swim, except for Mermaid Barbie and Merman Ken). You can even live out your best Barbie/Ken life by staying at the Airbnb Barbie’s Malibu Dreamhouse while skating around in your Barbie Impala skates and eating a Barbie Doughnut! The possibilities are indeed endless.
The hype that was built for this film is so sky-high that you find yourself looking down from the Dreamhouse waiting to gently float down when you finally see the film.
Only you fall flat, just like Barbie did.
Nearly everyone has a memory of Barbie growing up, people all have their favorite Barbie. Mine was the Fashion Fever Hair Highlights Barbie that came with a streaking machine that colored both Barbie’s and your hair pink, purple and blue. Quite a few boys I know had their own favorite Barbies too, whether it was because of their sisters or their own volition, I’m not sure. Some of these Barbies I wasn’t aware of, like Barbie Mariposa!
No one had a Ken though, which is very sad. Sorry Ken, but we just substituted Barbies in pants for your role while you sort of faded into obscurity like your buddy Allan. I guess Barbie really was everything?
But that’s how the film had presented itself pre-release: “Barbie is everything and He’s just Ken.”
Barbieland is a land run by the Barbies, for the Barbies, of the Barbies while the Kens just hang around as their accessories and the backdrop. A satire on society, the ultimate feminist utopia that’s the exact opposite of the Real World. The Barbies live sheltered and blissfully unaware that contrary to their belief, their existence hasn’t actually solved the Real World’s problems.
Every day is a perfect day in Barbieland for the Barbies, until it isn’t for Stereotypical Barbie who seems to start malfunctioning — having thoughts of death, cellulite, flat feet etc. She makes a grudging visit to Weird Barbie (a Barbie that is quite obviously the most cherished Barbie among all the Barbies of Barbieland, considering the signs of wear and tear on her) who suggests that Stereotypical Barbie take a trip to the Real World and fix the issue with her overlord/owner if she wants to fix herself.
Barbie — who really just wants to get back to wearing her heels — ventures out to the Real World with Ken the stowaway, to do this.
The Real World is a culture shock to both of them. Barbie discovers the harsh reality of what it means to be a woman in today’s world while Ken discovers three things:
One, patriarchy — that he and the other Kens have faced discrimination/subjugation, men rule the Real World.
Two, he is woefully underqualified for any job in the real world, one needs an MBA, PhD or swimming lessons.
Unlike Barbie who decided to take two humans back with her to Barbieland (reasons for which are slightly unclear), Ken decides to implement whatever he learned out there in the Real World and turn Barbieland into Kendom.
Now it is up to a mother and her angry tween daughter who accompanied Barbie to make the brainwashed Barbies come to their senses and restore Barbieland to how it once was. The Barbies seem as airheaded and easily swayed as their male counterparts, it makes you wonder how Barbieland even managed to last this long.
Meanwhile, the corporate suits from Mattel make their way into Barbieland to bring back the kidnapped humans, I think. They were an unnecessary add-on to the hot pink hot pot, their purpose unknown, aside from poking fun at Mattel. What was Will Ferrel even doing there?
This is where everything in the Dreamhouse starts to fall apart.
In trying to be everything — an empowerment film, a social satire, a musical, a comedy, a feel-good, seemingly superfluous yet thought-provoking film; Barbie ends up being a jack of all trades master of none or even worse — Nothing.
When all is said and done, Kendom is overthrown with the power of forward-thinking women. The Barbies take back control of their dictatorship, giving the Kens positions of power as faux as their faux minks to give Barbieland an image of democracy. Happy ending or are we going back to the beginning?
Gloria (the Real-World Mom, Mattel employee/Stereotypical Barbie’s puppet master) proposes the concept of Mom Barbie, who can be anything and also a mother at the same time. A doomed idea as stated by bossman Will Ferrell. But wasn’t this how it started out at the Kubrickesque Space Odyssey landscape in the first place? Little girls playing mom were throwing away their baby dolls and replacing them with the sunglasses and bikini Barbie. That was emancipation back then, so what is it now?
What was the backbone of the story?
Barbie is everything?
When you take off your sparkly pink rose-colored BarbieTM shades, you realize that Barbie has actually done nothing of note.
She went to the Real World initially to fix both her human and herself. She was told she patched up a mother and daughter’s fractured relationship but did she really do that? Has it even been fixed or just temporarily restored together with pink glitter glue? She wanted to fix things because she wanted to go back to the way things were but she chooses to become human instead. If you squint, you see that Barbie has already turned out exactly like her owner.
She chooses to step into the world that wasn’t very welcoming in the first place, wearing the Birkenstocks which she so detested in the beginning of her journey. The Narrator even mentions this, that Barbie trades her plastics and pastels of Barbieland for the plastics and pastels of L.A. You are left utterly befuddled as to why one would leave a perfect life for a normal one?
Margot Robbie does make the Perfect BarbieTM, even if her Barbie doesn’t get the Perfect Ending. She is literally the doll, especially in the scene where Barbie has an existential crisis (a lot of that happens in this film). She flops on the ground so doll-like and lies turned to the side as though tragically tossed aside by a bored little girl.
If anyone from Barbieland deserves to go into the Real World, it is Ken or even Allan (who has attempted to escape from the horrors of Barbieland and Kendom).
Meanwhile Ken on the other hand is a whole different ballgame. He’s had the most character development in this entire film. This is one of the rare films in which Ryan Gosling is actually happy/ getting a good ending.
Ken starts off as timid, eager to please, existing only in his Barbie’s gaze and is taken for granted. When he goes out into the Real World, he discovers what’s been happening to all the Kens. Not only does he understand and assimilate all of the information presented to him, but also manages to successfully implement it and create a tangible change in his world. Of course, by the end he suffers an existential crisis of his own and thanks to Barbie realizes that he’s Kenough. No longer is he bound to live in her shadow, he can be just Ken.
The best part for Ken is that Barbie’s Dreamhouse remains Ken’s new and improved Mojo Dojo Casa House.
By the end of the film, we have seen Ken dance, sing, attempt to be a doctor/CEO/lifeguard, urge fellow Kens to stand up for themselves and you suddenly realize Ken is everything and she’s just Barbie.