Our Orthodox women's group was so excited when we heard the Barbie movie was coming out. Myself and some of the older women had played with them as children. Some of the younger girls knew the Barbie animated movies and her ever-popular website.
We were a parade of pink in church on Sunday, with our tickets booked for a matinee after service. Covered in glitter and buzzing with anticipation, we sat down in the theater, giddy at what was to come.
And we left feeling… confused. The hype around this movie was massive. We had watched interviews, listened to playlists, even watched some of the movies that inspired Greta Gerwig when directing this movie. They included classics, from Singin' in the Rain to The Godfather to The Truman Show. It made us hopeful. That this would be a movie that didn't take itself too seriously and played to Barbies strength: the magic of pretend.
Instead, we got a slew of messages that aimed to include everyone, but had no clear target.
You can't simultaneously encourage women to be like men, and encourage men.
You can't rattle off a list of grievances and double standards women have dealt with and not do the same for men.
You can't say that your identity is not wrapped up in your career and people's perception of you when that's the main reason Mattel has been making money off of Barbies for the past fifty years.
This, and much more, really gunked up the flow of the movie. The perky pink sets and statement outfits were overshadowed by not only Barbie's personal existential crisis, but by the existential crisis of the movie as well.
Now, before I get too critical, there were aspects of the film that I really enjoyed. First, the aspect of play-pretend. The Barbies moved and spoke as if being played with by children. While the banter was juvenile, I will say that the movie is NOT for kids. But with its PG-13 rating, I didn't expect it to be.
Second, I think it was well cast. In particular, Ryan Gosling and America Ferrera do really well with what they're given. There were men at our church who solely wanted to see the movie just because of Goslings performance, and at this point I can't blame them. I also really appreciated the studio going with Margot Robbie over Amy Schumer (for obvious reasons) and I thought Michael Cera's Allan was a comical character who had a lot more screen time than I initially thought.
Third, the sets and outfits were everything we expected them to be. Everything was pink, glamorous and perfect. It was so surreal, you found yourself getting comfortable in Barbie land.
It was when you entered the real world that things got… complicated.
Upon having an existential crisis, "Stereotypical Barbie" (yes, that's what they call her) has to make her way to the real world in order to help the girl who is playing with her. After a series of visions, she is able to locate the girl she thinks is responsible. This girl, once happy to play with Barbie's alongside her mother, now hates everything Barbie stands for. The tween goes on an embarrassing tirade, during which all of her friends egg her on, because the coolest thing you can do in middle school is be disrespectful to adults. She calls her a capitalist and a fascist, which makes Barbie very upset, because all Barbie's are under the influence that their advent cured the world of all its ails.
Realizing a "real Barbie" got loose, Mattel aims to capture her and put her in a box. The most menacing thing about this box are its large twist ties, which Barbie easily escapes. It is not further elaborated upon why this box is so evil, nor why Mattel doesn't just send her back to Barbie land. It's the most obvious metaphor (and believe me, there are a lot).
At the end of it all, Mattel seems to not care about any of the previous events and agree to create an "ordinary Barbie" who is "just trying to make it through the day". Which is… fine, I guess. But I don't think it's what women should strive for, especially since God calls us to bear our crosses and follow Him.
To conclude her existential crisis, Barbie, though she has faced the brutal "real world", wants to join it and is able to become human through her own sheer will. The next thing she does is visit a gynecologist (No, I'm not kidding. I couldn't make this up if I tried.)
And all of the aforementioned is just Barbie's experience. Already, it's dizzying to search for the moving target that is the message of this movie.
Next we have Ken, who, after spending his life as Barbie's accessory and getting no respect, finds the patriarchy in the real world. He brings it back to Barbie land and chaos ensues, as the Ken's knock back brewski beers while the other Barbie's are brainwashed into becoming their maids. In the end, he admits he only liked the patriarchy because he thought it had more to do with horses (seriously, I can't make this up) and the Ken's are kept from voting to change the constitution of Barbie land.
Ryan Gosling has stated in interviews that he wanted Ken's story to be told. That it needed to be told. And then proceeded to show us Ken as a Barbie deifying pseudo-villian who only in the last five minutes of the movie is allowed (by Barbie) to find his purpose in life without her.
Gloria, a human woman, was true person connected to "Stereotypical Barbie's" existential crisis. She works for Mattel and has been lonely and feeling disconnected from her tweenage daughter, and has been using Barbie to cope.
I love this part of the movie, as it shows the ups and downs of motherhood, and we get to see a mother and daughter improve their relationship through Barbies. It's wholesome and refreshing in the midst of the chaos of the movie.
Then there's the monologue. The monologue that had been so hyped up in the promotional material. Meryl Streep said she wanted to do this monolgoue. I was on the edge of my seat waiting for it.
America Ferrera delivered her monologue well, but the message did not hit quite right with me. While I did tear up at the first part in regards to feeling pulled in every direction (being a new mother and all) the rest of the speech fell upon my deaf ears with a dull thud. It was almost as of it had been pulled from a feminist Tumblr page from seven years ago. It dragged on to the point of getting whiny. I couldn't wait for it to end.
We get it. Life is hard for women. We are pulled in a million directions. We have many expectations placed upon ourselves. But which of those expectations has been placed by God? Very few. The rest we shoulder because either society tells us to, or because we have an innate struggle in giving up control.
This movie isn't bad. It's a black hole. It's empty, and not in the way we thought it would be. It's not just shallow; it's hollow. It's nothing.
The Barbie Movie is the antithesis to Barbie herself. It proves that you cannot be everything to everyone all at once. In the same movie you can't: preach feminism, discuss men "finding" themselves, perpetuate stereotypes of both sexes, look at the struggles of being a mother, and contemplate existence. You just can't.
We wanted a good, silly movie. We got a silly movie that took itself too seriously, tried to target too wide a range of audiences, and lost its magic somewhere in the middle. It was supposed to fill us with nostalgia and child-like wonder, and leave us with hope for the future. In actuality, it left us feeling a suspicious amount of ennui as we mourned the loss of what this movie could have, and should have, been.
This movie could have been everything we were looking for. But instead, a hurried plot and muddled social commentary reduced it to nothing.
Barbie is nothing now.