So, I visited Barbieland the other day, my friends. Yep. My first visit back in many, many moons. I spent a lot of time in Barbieland back in the day.
When I was a kid, I loved Barbie. I had several.
My first Barbie had short dark hair and she wore the original black and white striped bathing suit. Later, I acquired a blonde, bobbed Barbie, a long-haired Barbie with bendable legs appropriately named “Bendable Barbie.” As well as a “Twist-and-Turn Barbie” whose waist moved, a Tressy doll whose blonde hair grew when you pressed her stomach and pulled on her hair. You could wind it back up inside her head with a key in her back. I had a Barbie-knock-off doll whose hair could be coloured with washable markers, and a Skipper doll too. Plus Barbie’s Dream House, a pink plastic canopy bed, and a Barbie car. Just like the one in the movie.
I had two cases stuffed with clothes that could be hung on tiny plastic hangers. A few of the clothes were purchased, some were made by a neighbour who was a whizz with the sewing machine, and many more I crafted myself.
That’s a lot of Barbie stuff for the youngest child of four being raised by single mum in a household where money was not plentiful. Luckily for me, I had chubby cheeks, curly hair, a winning smile (well, I thought so anyway), and several aunts and female family friends who liked little girls but had no daughters of their own. I was one lucky kid, folks. One year for Christmas I received three Barbies. Mum was unsettled at my windfall. I was being spoiled by too many expensive presents, she moaned. But I was in seventh heaven.
So it was mostly Barbie nostalgia that sent me to see the Barbie movie last week. That and the fact that my friends all wanted to see it. And we wanted a fun night out together.
I initially said I would NOT wear pink. I didn’t want to be part of the conspiracy of dress-up-silliness that the movie was engendering. Then the day of, not wanting to seem churlish, I relented and dug out the only pink-ish things in my closet. A lilac tank top, a brightly coloured neckerchief with bright pink in it, a lilac sweater, and an old pink Cole Haan bag from 2007.
As it happened, I wore the lilac Vince sweater, my navy and white checked Rag and Bone Simone pants, and my cream Michael Kors sandals. At the last moment, I ditched the pink Cole Haan bag, and carried my straw tote instead. The pink bag made me feel as if I was trying too hard. I hate wearing costumes, which seems odd for someone who loves clothes, I know. I wanted to look unintentionally pink, not Barbie-ish pink. My friends felt the same way. We all turned out in some version of pink-ish, kind of pink, touch of pink. But I must say that my friend Linsey’s tunic top was the perfect Barbie pink. Unintentionally, of course.
So. The Barbie movie. What did I think? I loved it and I was bored with it at the same time. I found it hilarious, and yet at times way too silly for me. I am not a Will Ferrell fan. Margot Robbie as Barbie is wonderful. I think she gets Barbie just right. Barbie’s innocence and her lack of empathy. Then her dawning sense of emptiness because she lives in a perfect, yet empty world. Her naiveté at the state of the real world. Her distress when she isn’t accepted by the girls she meets in the real world, who Barbie thinks should love her and be grateful to her, but instead shame her and call her a fascist. That is a great moment in the film, those savvy real-world kids juxtaposed against a pink-clad, happy-clappy adult Barbie who is more child than they are.
I was less impressed with Ryan Gosling’s Ken. One reviewer said that he feels sympathy for Gosling’s Ken; I just thought he was annoying. And by that I mean Ken is annoying, not Ryan Gosling. I’m a big Ryan Gosling fan. Still Ken as the leader of the patriarchy in the newly remodelled Barbieland is hilarious.
Obviously, you’ll have heard the gist of the plot of the movie. Barbie must go to the real world to find out what is troubling her; Ken tags along. Barbie is shocked that the real world is run by men, and women are oppressed. Ken is entranced by the idea that men can have power as opposed to Barbieland where the Kens are decidedly second class citizens. So he hightails it back to Barbieland on his own to set up a Ken-tocracy, where the Kens drink beer, brainwash the Barbies to be subservient, and otherwise trash Barbie’s Dream House. Eventually Barbie, along with a real-world mother and daughter (the same girl who called Barbie a fascist), must save the day.
The plot is pretty silly. At times it drags, and I just wanted them to get on with it. One friend said in places she thought: “For god’s sake land this darned thing.” Her comment made me laugh. I found the pink and lime green inanity of Barbieland slightly annoying. But the movie was never meant to be grittily realistic. I mean, it’s Barbie after all. But that doesn’t mean the film does not have value. It does.
The jokes are very funny, if you like pop-culture allusions and clever insider-type jokes. Which I do. The opening of the Barbie film which mimics the opening scene in 2oo1: A Space Odyssey is brilliant. The fact that “Depressed Barbie” watches reruns of the 1995 version of Pride and Prejudice… over and over. Ha. I almost missed that one, then laughed out loud. Most of the jokes are definitely not meant for kids. Especially the jokes about pregnant Midge being “discontinued” or about Barbie not having a vagina. The guests on one Fox News show which discussed the movie were appalled at that line. A fact which made me appreciate it even more.
My favourite is the scene where “Weird Barbie” played by Kate McKinnon tells Barbie she must choose: either the high heel which symbolizes her status quo in perfect Barbieland, or the Birkenstock sandal which symbolizes her quest for the truth. When Barbie’s feet go flat, symbolic of her having doubts about her perfect world, she comments that if she had normal flat feet she’d never wear high heels. Ha. I can totally identify with that. My early twenties were spent in high heels, standing all day at work, running to catch the bus, walking home if I missed it. Oh… “the agony of da feet,” as my friend Debbie quipped one night when she eased off her high heels after we’d walked blocks and blocks home after a night out.
Of course Barbie is not a perfect movie. It’s fun. It has merit. It’s not just a pink plastic ode to capitalism. But it likely won’t change anyone’s mind about the patriarchy either. Director Greta Gerwig is a smart lady. Her film will appeal to people who don’t mind laughing at themselves. Like all those women of a certain age who dressed in pink for the movie and loved Barbies back in the day. Like me and my friends. And all those men who realize that society is still skewed toward men’s privilege, and still holds women to unrealistic beauty standards. And who deep down kind of know that they are a little obsessed with The Godfather. Ha.
By the way, the Barbie movie references lots of iconic films, not just 2001:A Space Odyssey, and The Godfather. The dance of the Kens is pure Grease, with the Kens mimicking the T-Birds in their black tee shirts and jeans and penny-loafers. This article explains how Greta Gerwig was inspired by her favourite movies.
The reviews of the movie are split. This one says the movie is the subversive, cleverly feminist hit of the summer. And this one says the movie can’t make up its mind what the heck it’s doing, and in the end “still bows to the patriarchy.”
I’m somewhere in the middle. But I think the movie is still worth seeing. Even if you’re not, and never were, a Barbie girl. Like me.
I admit that I was a Barbie-girl. I loved playing with my Barbies, preferring them over my “baby dolls,” dressing them in appropriate outfits for the adventures I designed for them, complete with detailed back-stories, goals, and obstacles to be overcome. Barbie as a spy. Or as a detective in search of Skipper’s killer, as Skipper lay dead in Barbie’s Dream House. Zooming around our apartment in her convertible, exploring dark closets for suspects. That adventure was heavily influenced by Nancy Drew. Ha.
But I didn’t, and still don’t, think that loving Barbie made me a stereotypical girly-girl. I liked to build things. I went fishing with my brother. And “helped” him in the summer when he worked on our grandfather’s drill rigs. I never minded getting dirty or grease-covered. No one said I shouldn’t do these things.
As child I valued reading and education and being smart in school; I did not believe that being a girl limited my choices, or that it meant I couldn’t do whatever I wanted. Obviously, I lived in a small world. And in a house that was almost exclusively female. And that must have made a difference. I’m sure that I was judged, and put into a box, by society, by men and women I didn’t know, in ways I never knew or imagined. But I don’t remember ever being told I could not do something because I was a girl.
Of course, the trouble is, just like Barbie had to leave Barbieland for the harsh “real” world, little girls grow up and have to face society as it is. Not as they believed it to be.
Anyway. Barbie the movie will not solve society’s problems. Or unseat the patriarchy. Or make misogyny go away. I didn’t think that Barbieland with the Kens as second-class citizens was any more attractive than the “real world” depicted with the men controlling everything. Power should be shared. And maybe that’s the point of the movie.
Or one of the points of the movie. Which, much like this post, doesn’t seem to arrive at one clear and unified point. It was ever thus for me, my friends. I have trouble getting to the point.
Now how about you? Were you a Barbie girl? Or did you eschew dolls for more active pursuits? Or maybe like me, you tried to straddle both worlds? If you’ve seen Barbie the movie, please weigh in with your take.
P.S. Hubby and I are headed down to New Brunswick next week. For my mum’s Celebration of Life. We’ll be away for a couple of weeks. I won’t be blogging while we’re away. But I’ll be back with a post on August 26. Until then, enjoy the rest of your summer, my friends.