Netflix & Chill #105: Barbie

I did it. I watched the Barbie movie... I still need to dig up Oppenheimer to complete the Barbenheimer Experience, but half of the deed is done. The current cultural discourse meant that immediately, people would hate and despise this movie because... reasons, but having watched it with (what I hope is) a fairly open mind, I don't really see why. (And I can't find anything to really back up the 'gurrrrrrrr, man-hating woke woke woke' that was floating around about it. Both Critic and Audience scores on Rotten Tomatoes are in the mid-80s, so people really seemed to genuinely like it.)

Barbie opens in Barbieland, where Stereotypical Barbie (Margot Robbie) is going about her perfect day with her fellow Barbies. Every night is girl's night in Barbieland. Barbies hold all the prestigious jobs, such as President Barbie (Issa Rae), Doctor Barbie (Hari Nef), Lawyer Barbie (Sharon Rooney), Writer Barbie (Alexandra Shipp), Journalist Barbie (Ritu Arya), and Diplomat Barbie (Nicola Coughlan). There are multiple Kens here two, with Beach Ken (Ryan Gosling), Tourist Ken (Simu Liu), Basketball Ken (Kingsley Ben-Adir), Artist Ken (Ncuti Gatwa), Stereotypical Ken (Scott Evans) and Kenmaid/merman Ken (Jon Cena.) The Kens spend their days playing at the beach and consider it their profession.

Everything is happy- or so it seems. There are discontinued models like Allan (Michael Cera), the pregnant Midge (Emerald Fennell), and Weird Barbie (Kate McKinnon) floating around that people just kind of ignore or don't talk about. Beach Ken is only happy when he's with Stereotypical Barbie and wants to be in a closer relationship with her, but she keeps spurning him to hang out with the other Barbies.

One day, however, she wakes up and something is different. She is stricken with an unusual series of maladies: worries about her mortality, bad breath, cellulite, and flat feet which completely throw off her day. She consults with Weird Barbie, who tells her she must find the kid playing with her in the real world to cure her afflictions- but wanting to spend some quality time with her, Ken tags along.

The two arrive in Venice Beach and immediately have problems integrating into the real world. Barbie punches a man for groping her, Ken gets caught taking clothes and they get arrested, which tips off the Mattel Corporation to their presence, and the CEO (Will Ferrell) orders their recapture. Barbie tracks down the girl from the real world, a tween named Sasha (Ariana Greenblatt) who tears into her for encouraging unrealistic beauty standards- but Barbue soon discovers that it's not Sasha, but her Mom, Gloria (America Ferrera) who touched off her existential crisis and the three of them escape and evade Mattell executives to get back to Barbieland.

Ken, meanwhile has discovered patriarchy and feels respected for the first time, bringing his new knowledge back to Barbieland before Barbie arrives. When she does arrive, she finds that the Kens have taken over and the Barbies have been indoctrinated into submissive roles, such as agreeable girlfriends, housewives, and maids. Barbie fails to convince everyone to go back to the way things were and is depressed, but Gloria points out that society has conflicting expectations of women and Barbie's self-confidence is restored enough to get the job done. They rally Sasha, Weird Barbie, Allan, and other discontinued dolls to deprogram all the other Barbies and regain control. 

Having experienced system oppression for themselves, the Barbies resolve to treat the Kens and the other outcasts better to try and rectify their previous faults. Barbie and Ken reconcile, but she's still unsure of her own identity and he feels he lacks a purpose without her, but she encourages him to find his own way. After a meeting with the spirit of Ruth Handler (Rhea Perlman), she decided to become human and return to the real world, where sometime later, Barbie- now Barbara Handler, goes to her first gynecologist appointment.

This was a surprisingly deep movie and anyone who says it's all about promoting woke ideology and hatred of men didn't watch it all the way through. When we first get to Barbie Land, it's true that Gerwig does take some potshots at Citizens United, but that's pretty much it in terms of the outwardly political stuff-- really my biggest takeaway from this movie is that it illustrated how locking people into expectations as a society is bad. (If you want to academic it up a bit: "It was a critique of how systems of power can oppress both men and women.") Surprisingly, Gerwig isn't afraid to turn the tables on Barbie herself either-- when Sasha makes her cry in the movie about promoting unrealistic beauty standards for women, Sasha ain't wrong! 

The underlying message really resonates- even with me. Expectations can harm people. Whether it's society or culture or even your family, we try and stick each other into tiny little boxes all the time- a fact illustrated in the movie when the Mattel people attempt to literally rebox Barbie for remanufacture- and it often makes people miserable at worst or mildly unhappy at best. You could take a message about feminism away from this, but you can also take a message about healthier masculinity away from this as well. Men shouldn't have to be locked into 'expectations' about what makes them 'real men.' Those expectations prove to be harmful to both Barbies and Kens in the movie and the message can carry over into the real world-- though, because it's 2023, we should make a point that if we can have Barbenheimer, presumably Barken or Kenbies or other combinations should also be allowed to flourish.

 If there's one thing I didn't get- and it's probably because I'm a dude, it's the ending. I get that going to a gynecologist is a universal shared experience for women-- (I guess?) but it seemed a little odd to me. But the Missus loved it. Didn't have any problem with it, so I'm going to chalk my reaction up to being a guy and leave it at that.

Overall: Not what I expected at all and I found that not only did I enjoy it, but it was thought-provoking as well, which was also not on my bingo card for the Barbie movie. I was skeptical about Hollywood's rush to adapt board games and toys to movies but it turns out that in the hands of the right director (Greta Gerwig) and with an amazing cast to back you up, you can make a genuinely great movie not only does right by it's subject (Barbie) but makes people sit back and think a little bit as well. My Grade: **** out of ****


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