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Barbie Land vs. The Real World

I'm not here to yuck anyone else's yum, and the internet has made it very clear that I'm in the minority with what I'm about to say, and that's fine. But ... I found much of Barbie (2023) to be boring.

I was never a "Barbie girl," but I am a fan of Margot Robbie, so I went to see the latest pop culture phenomenon for the sake of casting. And at first, I was delighted. Barbie Land, and its citizens are gorgeously constructed, well-cast, and deliciously scripted. It is a perfect confection which balances visual interest, wit, strong acting, and social commentary. It says so much about gender roles and personal relationships and identity, and it says it rather bluntly, but with an edge of humor that keeps the message entertaining.

But once Barbie and Ken travel to "the real world" the film begins to unravel.

Little makes sense after the boundary is crossed. The idea that "we're all being played with" defies the logic of Barbie Land, with its individual casting (i.e. there aren't enough Barbies for each doll to have a connection to a single human), as does the idea that every other Barbie's playmates have preserved their natural state; they'd all be "Weird Barbies" if the story's logic was consistent. This would likely be less of a quibble if there was any chemistry between America Ferrera, Ariana Greenblatt, and Margot Robbie; to see Ferrera fawning over a very human-looking Robbie (as opposed to a connection to a beloved doll) felt more like a reinforcement of traditional beauty standards and expectations rather than a rejection of the same. Greenblatt is a useless caricature whose sole purpose is to give voice to the stereotypical perspective on Barbie. She's a meme rather than a fully-developed character.

Still, Greenblatt's teenage angsty Sasha is far more relevant than the entire "Mattel" cast, led by will Ferrell's two-dimensional, cringey CEO. Yes, that a board of middle-aged men would see themselves as responsible for the emotional development of young girls is a subject that deserves satire, their entire narrative investment builds up to Barbie asking to see the woman in charge and being flabbergasted to find there isn't one. That's it. That's the payoff. This could have been managed much more effectively with greater narrative attention to the professional development of Ferrara's Gloria, who serves as the voice of feminism in the film. The men of Mattel are superfluous - much like Ferrara's token husband.

Once Barbie returns to Barbie Land the film becomes interesting once again. Ryan Gosling as a bumbling dude-bro Ken is compellingly ridiculous, and both objectionable and human. Patriarchy in Barbie Land makes a clear message, and the exploration of toxic masculinity is wonderfully executed. The dance battle and subsequent unity may well be my favorite scene of the entire film, and the social messages of Barbie Land conflict are no less successful for being direct, or candy-colored.

I will say that I'm glad the movie was made. I think the representation of these ideas, so clearly stated and directly executed, is incredibly important at this point in time. I am thrilled to think of the young people who are going to see this film, and start thinking about what they may be taught versus how people should actually be treated. It just wasn't a hit for my expectation of entertainment. My personal edits would have been to cut every scene with Will Ferrel and the executives, to give Gloria further development and connect her work and life more affectively to Barbie, and to scrap the Pinnocchio conclusion.

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