As a lifelong fan of Barbie, I was super-excited last year upon learning there was going to be a Barbie movie. The now famous photograph of actors Margot Robbie and Ryan Gosling as Barbie and Ken respectively, in colorful skating outfits in Venice, California, only fueled that passion to a fever pitch. They looked absolutely perfect!
Even though I went in with no preconceived ideas or expectations regarding the plot, the movie constantly amazed me, and in the words of producer Robbie Brenner, it quickly became, “the thing you didn’t know you wanted”. It also became not only the thing I enjoyed hearing, but also the thing I believe we all needed to hear as far as Barbie’s origins and where she now stands in American society as far as a role model for woman and womanhood.
The movie starts out on an amusing, off-kilter note of comedy as well, chronicling Barbie’s origin story as told by Helen Mirren, while parodying the opening to 2001: A Space Odyssey.
Moving forward through what most audiences will expect would be stereotypical for a movie about the popular American-born doll, the physics and rules of Barbieland are cleverly balanced between what one would realistically expect from sometimes the human world and sometimes what seems perfectly natural in “Barbieland’. As seen in the popular trailers, Barbie takes showers with imaginary water, pretends to eat food from little plastic containers in a fridge filled with both three-dimensional cartons of milk and a flat, painted backdrop of food staples found in any ice box across the world. She even floats down from the second story of her home to land perfectly in her car, ready for a trip through her neighborhood, greeting other Barbies and heading for the beach.
The perfect and sunny beaches in Barbieland are populated by the “Kens”, the only difference in their names being the description of the purpose for their original creation, such as “Basketball Ken”, “Artist Ken”, “Sugar Daddy Ken” and even a merman known as “Kenmaid”. It is here that the Kens vie for the praise and attention of Margot Robbie’s “Stereotypical Barbie”. This pursuit of approval is highlighted in the “Beach Ken”, who is often thought of as being Barbie’s boyfriend in the real world and is played to perfection by actor Ryan Gosling.
As the plot progresses, stereotypical Barbie calls into question the nature of her existence and is told by Weird Barbie (Kate McKinnon) that she must go and find the little girl who plays with her in the real world. They are tied together and this child’s sadness is bleeding over into Barbie’s own existence.
Reluctant at first, she is told things will only get worse, not better for her if she chooses to stay in her own comfortable world. She is accompanied by Beach Ken and together the two dolls cross over the border into the land of “Los Angeles”.
Here is where Barbie’s real journey begins, as well as Ken’s. The movie never plays it safe from here on out, yet also manages to retain a sense of humor when not exploring how the role of women and American society has changed from Barbie’s first inception in 1959. And by far, mine and a lot of other people’s favorite scene is America Ferrera’s monologue on what it’s like to be a woman in America in 2023 and spoiler warning, no, it has nothing to do with the happy endings happy children imagine for their Barbies, and everything to do with what feminists have complained about for decades regarding what they perceive as the message Barbie’s very existence has sent little girls since its birth in the 50’s.
Whether you love the concept of Barbie, am lukewarm about it or downright don’t like it, this movie will have fun and an important message for all. Go see it, and enjoy yourself or think about its societal messages. You’ll be glad that you did.
Kristine Cherry is a lifelong geek who comes by it honestly on her father’s side of the gene pool. She costumes, writes fanfiction, was the TimeSiren of SciFi Radio’s Corsair’s Closet Doctor Who podcast. She is currently writing her own series of fantasy death goddess eBooks via https://whocate.info