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‘Barbie’ Review: Barbie Girl Finds Out Life Is Not So Fantastic

The famous face of Barbie that started it all, inspiring Gerwig's 2023 film
Photo by Sandra Gabriel on Unsplash

With the build-up of ingenious marketing and an impressive cast, people have flooded the cinemas in pink to celebrate this cinematic sensation. Most women—me included—have rejected pink at some point in their life in fear of being viewed as too girly, as if this was something innately negative. As a young girl, it is hard to escape internalised misogyny when femininity means being taken less seriously, stereotyped with stupidity and incessantly made fun of. Inevitably, you reject it, as well as the things heavily associated with it, such as pink. However, seeing everyone come together to celebrate their femininity has been remarkable, truly emulating the journey of the Barbies and the humans in the film.

Whether you followed through with Barbenheimer or not, Barbie is a must-watch, as Greta Gerwig has showcased her exceptional directing skills once again. Her beautiful depictions of the complexities of womanhood are also embodied within her other works: through sisterhood in Little Women (2019) and through the complicated mother-daughter relationship in Ladybird (2017). The multifaceted figure of Barbie represents the interminable capabilities of women in a range of professions, as a role model for young girls to see themselves in positions that may not feel accessible. It also, however, encompasses the unreachable standard of perfection girls are held to from very young, which only becomes more complicated and more detrimental with age. Therefore, Barbie’s encounter with the reality of the female experience, seeing the warmth of girlhood and how it's stripped away by objectification, creates a simultaneously warm and heart-breaking journey for the audience.

Margot Robbie, playing Stereotypical Barbie, is a joyful character. She is excited to see the way Barbies have empowered women but is also faced with the reality of her participation in perpetuating the unrealistic beauty standard. It was deeply touching to see America Ferrera (as Gloria) and Sharon Rooney (as Lawyer Barbie), who have both played notoriously ‘unattractive’ characters in the past, pushed into the trope of the undesirable woman, finally celebrated for their beauty and their abilities beyond that. Gerwig refused the request from studio executives to cut the scene between Margot Robbie’s Barbie and the older woman on the bench. Despite this scene not leading anywhere, the beauty of their interaction and Barbie’s earnest compliment of the old woman’s beauty is one of many truly touching moments of the film.

One of the highlights of the movie was Michael Cera’s Allan. He stands out amongst the Kens by being the only Allan, displaying unexpected fighting skills despite not being able to figure out how to get over a small fence at one point.

Despite the initial backlash received for casting Ryan Gosling as Ken, his ‘Kenergy’ was everything; from how Ken’s “job is just beach,” as Gosling told GQ in a cover profile in May, to his shouting “SUBLIME!” in excitement about getting back with Barbie. Barbie gains this new understanding of the patriarchal real world, empathising with the pain one experiences as a human and especially as a woman. While Ken goes through his own journey of understanding internal validation to be “Kenough”, he also becomes aware that he has power purely by being a man. The destruction of Barbie’s dream house to make way for Ken’s “Mojo Dojo Casa House”, the demeaning reduction of the empowered intelligent Barbies to maids serving the Ken’s beers, and the Supreme Court wearing cheerleader outfits to act as eye candy created a real sinking feeling. He never takes the time, however, to sympathise with Barbie’s sexualisation and degradation while they rollerskate, but instead revels in the attention he receives. Ken doesn’t apologise for taking Barbie’s dreamhouse from her or for treating her so badly, and even when she tries to make up with him, he tries to kiss her; that was not the Kenergy we love and need.

Barbie’s choice to become a human despite all the suffering she learns is portrayed as an innate part of the human experience. It truly speaks to the empathy and depth she has gained from wanting to forget everything and pick the pink heel over the Birkenstock sandal. In gradually becoming more human—physically, then mentally—she comes to understand human nature in all its beauty and convolution. A perfect moment to end on was Barbie seemingly hyping up for a job interview, but really hyping up for her first gynaecologist appointment. Margot Robbie, the Stereotypical Barbie, didn’t need a job to suddenly give her value or to prove herself; she just needed to exist as a woman, experiencing the most normal and uncomfortable aspects of it. Barbie going to the gynaecologist when she has been a doll without genitals her whole life made for a light-hearted and humorous end to the film. However, it also symbolised how as a doll she has lived without the complications and messiness of a woman’s body, that suffers internally, even when there aren't any external burdens. Gerwig perfectly combines the minor struggles of being a woman—such as cellulite—as well as the larger ones that Barbie has been shielded from in Barbieland.

With reactions split, some see it as lacking intersectional depth. By focusing on a white feminist with blonde blue-eyed Barbie’s overarching difficulties with aesthetic perfection, Barbie doesn’t delve into the struggles that exclusively face women of colour. Others believe it pushes down on men too heavily by reducing Kens to secondary figures that aren’t as intelligent or complex, despite this being the typical portrayal of women in cinema historically. Either way, the film gives voice to some of the many struggles women face, that feel so ever-present to them but lack the representation and attention in box office films, and in a way that women can enjoy and feel appreciated by. The beauty of the film is undoubtedly its strong pastel aesthetic, enigmatic soundtrack, and captivating cast. However, even more so, it is the film’s impact, that sees women bringing out their old Barbies, ruminating in nostalgia, and celebrating womanhood; it all ties up to create a potential cult classic.


Edited by Oisín McGilloway, Co-Film & TV Editor


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