Pop Culture

Reviews For The Easily Distracted:

Title: Barbie

Describe This Movie In One Aliens Quote:
NEWT : Ripley, she doesn't have bad dreams because she's just a piece of plastic.
Brief Plot Synopsis: Blondes have more fun, until they don't.

Rating Using Random Objects Relevant To The Film: 3.5 Malibu Stacies (with new hat!) out of 5.
Tagline: "She's Everything. He's just Ken."

Better Tagline: "I am ... doll parts."

Not So Brief Plot Synopsis: Every day is perfect in Barbie Land, where the Barbies have created a near-Utopian society. However, things have started to unravel for "Stereotypical" Barbie (Margot Robbie), whose platonically idyllic life with Ken (Ryan Gosling) has recently been plagued with thoughts of death and the  appearance of cellulite(!). A visit with "Weird" Barbie (Kate McKinnon) reveals that the negative thoughts of whoever's playing with her in the Real World are what's causing these negative effects. Now, Barbie and Ken have to cross the boundary to find this person and also learn about something called the "patriarchy."

"Critical" Analysis: If you followed the normal train of thought when you heard they were making a live-action Barbie movie, you probably were about as enthusiastic as when Battleship was announced. Which is to say, not much.

Then more details started trickling out. Margot Robbie, the Academy Award-nominated actor who's impressed in everything from The Wolf of Wall Street to I, Tonya, was playing Barbie. Greta Gerwig, the Academy Award nominated writer/director of Lady Bird and Little Women was going to helm and co-write (along with partner Noah Baumbach). Ryan Gosling was going blond and entering full Roller Blade mode to play Ken. Maybe things were looking up.

Barbie is definitely better than Battleship, but that ain't hard. Further, it's a crowd-pleasing, blindingly neon affair that Gerwig and Baumbach infuse with plenty of the unpleasantries that go along with being a woman. Stereotypical Barbie and the other Barbies (and the discontinued Midge) have allowed themselves to believe their influence on the real world has led to a Barbie Land-style utopia, where women enjoy an equal share of power and respect.

She's clearly made a miscalculation, though her experiences in the real world are relatively benign (this is a mostly kid-friendly comedy, after all). The one who gains the most benefit from the visit is Ken, who learns that in this reality, men aren't merely accessories and actually run ... pretty much everything. Intrigued, he decides to bring this concept back to Barbie World, with unfortunate results.
click to enlarge
The feet are always the first to go.
Some of the decisions Gerwig makes hit harder than others. Barbie making the "wrong" choice when confronted with a Matrix-style conundrum by Weird Barbie, or the ultimate strategy the Barbies hit upon to "distract" the Kens (it partly involves The Godfather, and that's all I'll say). She has to walk a very fine line between echoing corporate propaganda and offering basic support for civil rights.

As a marketing exercise, Barbie is Mattel's most effective commercial to date (at least until JJ Abrams' "gritty" Hot Wheels film hits in a couple years, *cough*). The toy company and Warner Bros. cram in an impressive amount of product placement, even considering the IP. Too much, in fact, to be truly subversive.

But then, "subversive" doesn't feel like what Gerwig and Baumbach are going for. At least, it's at odds with the near-polemicizing Mattel employee Gloria (America Ferrera) does to deprogram the brainwashed Barbies. None of that shouldn't detract from GG/NB injecting what is essentially a two-hour commercial with messages about autonomy, body positivity, and intersectionality.

That Gerwig was able to essentially hijack a two-hour toy commercial (and a magnificently visualized one at that), one that cost $150 million, and deliver something approximating a progressive message, is just short of miraculous. Almost as miraculous as that 2001-inspired opening scene.

Ask A 14-Year Old Who Never Owned A Barbie:
RFTED: What did you think?
14YO: I think I'm having a crisis.

Barbie is now playing in theaters.
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Peter Vonder Haar writes movie reviews for the Houston Press and the occasional book. The first three novels in the "Clarke & Clarke Mysteries" - Lucky Town, Point Blank, and Empty Sky - are out now.
Contact: Pete Vonder Haar