Click-clacking into our hearts in hot pink plastic heels, Greta Gerwig’s feminist masterpiece Barbie delivers blow after blow to patriarchy, consumerism, and womanhood.
For months, the world has been buzzing in anticipation for Gerwig’s tale about Mattel’s famous 11.5 inch doll. We expected a star-studded cast, a toe tapping soundtrack, beautifully hand-painted sets, and extravagant costumes. Yet, few of us, myself included, foresaw a film that is artfully subversive, feminist to its core, and downright hilarious.
Gerwig is known for her heartbreaking coming of age tales, and Barbie is no different. We see Margot Robbie struggle with the nature of existing as a woman in society; the inherent contradictions one must face on a daily basis and the violence surrounding one's every move.
Barbie spends much of its running time critiquing the patriarchy and men in general. In Barbie’s trip to the Real World, we see Ryan Gosling’s Ken discover the power that men hold in our reality. He brings these ideals back to Barbieland, turning it into Kendom. It is up to Barbie and her new found human friends (America Ferrara and Ariana Greenblatt) to return Barbieland to its original, feminist utopia.
Through the power of sisterhood and some rocking hot-pink jumpsuits, Barbie and the gang restore Barbieland and save the day. Yet this storyline, the plot that drives the movie, is not what shines. Instead, it is Margot Robbie’s and America Ferrara’s struggle with womanhood.
America Ferrara encapsulates the American woman perfectly. She is tired, she’s depressed, she can’t connect to her daughter for the life of her, and she is sick of trying to exist within the parameters of womanhood. Her performance is absolutely outstanding in that it is entirely realistic.
Up until the last twenty minutes of the movie, one is left wholly depressed. Yes, Barbieland is saved, but Ferrara is left the same as before, and Robbie is still struggling with her identity. We soon learn that this is the point.
A woman can never be perfect because there is no perfect woman. Robbie can still be Barbie, if she chooses, even with her new found cellulite and flat feet. Ferrara is the perfect mother because she is simply a mother. Every woman in the film, every woman in the audience, are all performing womanhood perfectly because they are performing it. Because we wake up every day and exist.
Whilst this may seem impossibly depressing, that womanhood is simply this difficult, Gerwig delivers a heartfelt message to soften the blow. The key to existing as a woman is doing it together. Through a beautiful scene between Robbie and Rhea Pearlman (who plays the spirit of the creator of Barbie, Ruth Handler) we see that womanhood is beautiful when viewed through the eyes of your mother, grandmother, great aunt, and all those before you.
Rhea Pearlman delivers the perfect line to encapsulate this idea: “We mothers stand still so our daughters can look back to see how far they have come.”
Besides its cerebral take on feminism and womanhood, Barbie is simply a great time.
Over its 114 minute running time, I was continuously surprised with how weird Mattel allowed the movie to be. Its first fifteen minutes are downright confusing, with artificial visuals, cutting jokes, and stilted scripts. Yet once one realises this was Gerwig’s goal, everything clicks into place. Gerwig has written the movie as if a child has created the script. Often it feels like we are watching a child play with the dolls directly, with hilariously over produced dance scenes, and a jumping narrative.
This is just one of the many ways that Gerwig attempts to break the fourth wall over the course of the film. She includes several adverts for the dolls and many nods to the history of Barbie. A particularly engaging way Gerwig achieves this is through including legitimate dolls, toys, and outfits from the Barbie line. This encourages the audience to gasp and claim, “I had that one!” along with the movie.
One cannot complete a review of Barbie without mentioning Ryan Gosling’s outstanding performance. His insistence on creating his own catch phrases, physical comedy, and line delivery leave the audience in stitches. He perfectly encapsulates the stereotypical man, especially in his insistence of performing one song for four hours to Barbie with an acoustic guitar. As many women know, there is truly nothing worse than a man making awkward, direct eye contact with you for four solid minutes as he struggles through an Oasis song.
Ultimately, it is difficult to perfectly explain and encapsulate the wonders of Barbie in a short article. It is one of those beautiful things in life that must be seen to be believed. It subverts expectations, critiques anything that touches it, and leaves you with a sense of childhood wonder and a desire to call your mum.
It is of course not without its critiques. Will Farrel’s performance leaves much to be desired. His entire storyline could be cut from the film and not much would change. I was also left longing for more scenes between Ferrara and Greenblatt; their mother-daughter relationship needed some fleshing out.
Yet, all in all, Barbie is a pink, sparkly, masterpiece. Gerwig continues to deliver as a director, and the film is a soon to be family favourite. So don your pinkest outfit, give all the women in your life a hug, and go watch Barbie. It is truly, plastically, fantastic.
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