Photo credits: Jaap Buitendijk/Warner Bros
Many people had high hopes for the movie, “Barbie” (2023), especially with how much promotion there was for it along with its star cast, exciting soundtrack and colorful visuals. In some aspects, it lived up to the hype. But in other ways? Not at all.
To give a short summary of the film – which was directed by Greta Gerwig – “Barbie” takes place in the matriarchal, utopian “Barbieland” where, you guessed it, all of the variations of Barbie and Ken reside. They live perfect, fun lives, oblivious to the struggles in the “real world.” All of the Barbies are in positions of power, and hold jobs such as lawyers, doctors, president and so forth, whereas the Kens do not. None of them realize that the “real world” is the opposite of their own and that many of these jobs – and the world as a whole – are male-dominated.
Stereotypical Barbie, played by Margot Robbie, runs into a problem when, overnight, she begins to have thoughts about death and develops cellulite and flat feet (all Barbies stand on their tip-toes). All of this is completely unnatural to her, so she freaks out and learns that the only way she can reverse these changes is by heading to the real world and finding whoever is playing with the doll version of herself. From here, Barbie, along with Ken, played by Ryan Gosling, travel to the real world and realize it’s not at all what she or Ken expected. This is where both of their journeys of self-discovery – with lots of mishaps along the way – begin.
Essentially, the movie is about Barbie and Ken discovering the patriarchal “real world” and what that means for both of them. Barbie learns that in the “real world”, women aren’t respected like they are in Barbieland. On the other hand, Ken reaps the benefits of being in the “real world,” a place where he finally feels respected, and decides to bring all that he’s learned back to Barbieland.
I enjoyed “Barbie” because it was fun: the cinematography and costume design were stunning, the cast and acting were spectacular and the soundtrack was filled with songs made by popular artists such as Nicki Minaj, Ice Spice, Tame Impala, Dua Lipa, Billie Eilish, PinkPantheress and many more. Along with that, there were a few scenes throughout the film that I thought were very well made, most in regard to self-discovery, female empowerment and acceptance, but the film also focuses on the realities of living as a woman in a patriarchal society.
Despite this, I would hesitate to call the movie a “feminist” film, which it has already been deemed by many, including Gerwig herself, as stated in an ABC article by Sarah Ferguson and Marina Freri. There is an obvious effort throughout the movie to educate the audience while still keeping it relatively lighthearted and fun, but to me, the message didn’t come across as well as it could have. Rather, it was a little basic and surface-level. Which makes it incredibly ironic when some viewers and critics call it a “man-hating” movie. Although it may have not had the best messaging, it was still pretty clear: the patriarchy affects everyone, including men.
To add onto that, while Gerwig labeled the film as feminist, Mattel officials rejected that notion. Which makes it even more interesting when watching “Barbie” and realizing that Mattel is poked fun at and their controversies are explored – how did Mattel executives possibly give the “OK” to this? The answer: profit! According to an article written by James B. Stewart from the New York Times, Mattel’s chief financial officer said the company would make around $125 million from the film.
I was able to ask a couple of students at West Chester University about their thoughts on the movie. It was interesting to see what parts of the movie impacted students the most, and what they liked and disliked. It gave me some new perspective. Erin, a third-year history major, thought the movie was very well-made. She enjoyed the acting, premise and technical work. Erin also said her favorite part about the movie was how it brought the audience together. She noted that she “[loved] the atmosphere that was created in the theater” because of how lively and friendly it was. However, Erin did comment on what she disliked about the movie: “I don’t think the feminism represented in the film was as critical and effective as it could’ve been, [although] I do think this movie serves as a good introduction to the patriarchy and the disadvantages women face in a patriarchal society.”
I also spoke to another WCU student, second-year social work major Alexis, whose favorite part of the film was the scenes regarding mother-daughter relationships. She said she is a “real sucker for anything directing the complexities of the mother-daughter relationship.” Along with that, Alexis also mentioned Greta Gerwig’s previous movies, and how they speak to Gerwig’s personal experience with girlhood and self-discovery. Although “Barbie” attempts to speak to the experience of all women and femme individuals, she felt that “it fell short in regards to portraying the intricacies and differences of these experiences, [such as] the ways in which race interacts with gender” though she understands the movie did not have the breadth to explore this.
Despite some of my own unsavory opinions about “Barbie,” I do think that the movie created a community and brought together many different types of people. It was also funny at some points (see: the satirical scene where the Kens all pulled out a guitar and sang to the Barbies who were obviously not interested) and overall entertaining, but that’s all it was: a fun, enjoyable movie. “Barbie” did not offer any new perspectives, which is understandable considering how commercialized the movie was. However, I don’t think it should be praised for its “feminist themes” when they were quite superficial.
Ava Werner is a third-year Psychology major. AW973732@wcupa.edu