“Marketing Executive” Barbie


We went to see Barbie the other night. There’s a reason the movie is breaking all kinds of revenue and attendance records: it’s highly original, visually compelling, and a lot of fun. Margot Robbie (Barbie) and Ryan Gosling (Ken) deliver outstanding performances. And it had me smiling a lot.

In some ways, I’ve never seen a movie like it—the way it depicts Barbie’s perfect, plastic fantasy world as a matriarchy where Barbie can be anything she wants: astronaut, president, marketing executive, etc. Barbie rules in this world. One of the best lines in the movie: “Barbie has a great day every day. Ken only has a great day if Barbie looks at him.”

There’s a plot of sorts, which kicks off when stereotypical Barbie (Robbie) experiences an existential moment: thoughts of death cross her mind. That’s very un-doll-like. To restore order, Barbie must go through the portal into the real world to find out who’s playing with her and giving her all these existential human vibes. The concept is a little clumsy, but so what?

Barbie heads off in her pink car to the real world with Ken in tow. When she finds the daughter and mother who have been playing with her, Barbie discovers that she’s been partially responsible for some pretty unrealistic and conflicting expectations of women.

Ken discovers that patriarchy rules the real world. But Ken doesn’t have the chops to find his place in the real-world patriarchy, although he learns the ropes and heads back to Barbie land where he organizes the other Kens to turn Barbie land into Ken-dom, with all the Barbies subservient to the Kens’ needs. The Barbies have to take control back.

There are some very funny scenes. One of the best is when Ken is in control and all the Kens play guitar for all their adoring Barbies and sing the Matchbox Twenty song Push, as in “I want to push you around.” There are also fun scenes involving Barbie dolls that have been discontinued (pregnant Midge, Ken’s goofy friend Allen).

The movie gives men and their patriarchal ways a bad name, especially when it comes to their treatment of women (no surprise!), but as Julia told me: she didn’t see any behavior from any of the men in the movie that she hasn’t seen before. And there was a lot of boorish behavior. On the flip side, when Barbies are in charge in the matriarchy world, they can be a bit thoughtless themselves.

This is one of those movies with a message to deliver, and the overall message is that it’s enough for you to be you (Ken has a hilarious shirt that says “I am Kenough”). But to deliver the message, too much of the dialog ends up sounding like talking points for antipatriarchy and feminism, causing the climax and ending to be a bit flat.

Also, while not all the Barbies were traditionally slim and lovely, the whole “you’re perfect just the way you are” message gets undermined. One of the most beautiful women in Hollywood has been cast as Barbie, and even the filmmakers understood the contradiction in this because a voice-over at one point says that Margot Robbie isn’t the best figure to be delivering the message about being good enough just the way you are.

But Hollywood must Hollywood. It’s an ambitious film and an important one for our time. And it’s fun—especially for Mattel, which helped produce the film and benefited from what proved to be a wildly successful marketing program for the company. Mattel’s stock has soared since the movie came out.   

By David Klein

David Klein

Published novelist, creative writer, journalist, avid reader, discriminating screen watcher.


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