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Director Greta Gerwig

by Cooper Warner

Why Barbie is worth your attention

The opening scene of Barbie directed by Greta Gerwig (see Lady Bird and Little Women) is reminiscent of 2001: A Space Odyssey, in a vast and desolate landscape little girls play inattentively with the only toy available to them–baby dolls. Then, as if from the heavens, a giant doll in a black and white swimsuit and large gold earrings descends. The girls begin smashing their porcelain babies, tossing bottles into the air, kicking over rocking chairs. Barbie opens up the world to these little girls– now they can play doctor, astronaut, and CEO, not just mom.
Stereotypical Barbie (expertly played by Margot Robbie) shows us around the pink feast for the eyes that is Barbieland, a place where female inequality has been solved. Trouble comes when Barbie starts malfunctioning. She sets off on an adventure to the real world of Los Angeles to find the human that’s been playing with her and make things right. Her boyfriend-not-boyfriend Ken (Ryan Gosling) joins and discovers that the real world has a fun thing called ‘patriarchy.’ Barbie has a run in with Mattel corporate– twenty men in suits who claim to care deeply about the dreams of young girls– and while she handles that, Ken transforms Barbieland for the worse with his newfound patriarchy knowledge. When Barbie returns, she must hatch a plan to save the city.
It sounds deeply unserious and to an extent it is. The silliness (which will have you laughing out loud) is a good counterbalance to the deeper cultural commentary of the film. At one point Ken tries to get a corporate job in the real world and is denied because of a lack of qualifications (apparently Kens don’t go to college). He asks the manager if they do patriarchy there. “We do,” the man replies, “we just hide it better now.” Cue laughter. It’s funny because it’s true.
In her speech about the impossibility of meeting all the varied and paradoxical cultural expectations of womanhood, Barbie’s human counterpart Gloria (America Ferrera) says, “I’m just tired from watching myself and every single other woman tie themselves into knots so that people will like us.” I’m pretty sure I heard some sniffles and cheers at this part in the theater. It’s poignant because it’s true.
The film has grossed 1.2 billion worldwide, breaking the record for a female director. Beyond the pink, plastics, and fun, the cultural phenomenon and box office success of Barbie says a lot. Women want movies reflective of their experiences. We want to laugh, cry and commiserate over what it feels like to be us.
Barbie isn’t perfect. Well, the plastic doll might be, not the movie. But I liked it. I liked it because it was thoughtful, both visually and topically, over-the-top (there is more than one choreographed dance number), and as my two examples demonstrate– it hits home for a lot of ladies out there. Our world doesn’t look like Barbieland, but that doesn’t mean it can’t or shouldn’t.

Welcome Cooper Warner, a new writer.