Can a doll with impossible curves, boobs ready for takeoff, and an endearing grin be a feminist icon? That’s a question that permeates Greta Gerwig’s live-action, you-go-girl fantasy “Barbie,” which is about the most well-known doll in the world.
Barbie has been criticized and praised for her role in perpetuating harmful gender stereotypes and chauvinistic ideas of femininity throughout the course of more than 50 years. Barbie brilliantly captures shifting beliefs about girls and women: our Barbies, ourselves. If the doll has been a flashpoint in culture wars for about as long as it has been available, it is because of this. These are some of our Barbie movie first impressions.
Gerwig and Mattel
Greta Gerwig, who is also the writer and director of the film, reinvents Mattel’s most famous toy in a way that feels like a sugar-rush mashup of Toy Story 2, Pinocchio, Josie and the Pussycats, and the exploitation romp Beyond the Valley of the Dolls. Our Barbie movie first impressions: it’s a brilliantly funny feminist fable in candy colors that manages to both celebrate, satirize, and critique its cheerfully plastic subject. The audience will be thrilled. Mattel ought to be thrilled.
We proceed to a pastel pink haven where all problems of feminism and equal rights have been solved thanks to Barbie movie first impressions after a heavily trailered 2001 parody introduction. This is Barbieland, a make-believe realm where big-haired dolls can have any profession (lawyers, doctors, physicists, presidents), encouraging equal female achievement in the “real world.” (“We made it all right so that all women in the real world are content and strong!”)
Everybody here is Barbie, like a dreamlike version of the nightmare Being John Malkovich. All guys, though, are simply Ken. Or Allan (Michael Cera in a sorry state). However, Ken is largely all there is—a part without a part. The “Stereotypical Barbie” played by producer-star Margot Robbie is at the center of all this self-referential dribble, and she plays the part so well that no one minds Helen Mirren’s narrator’s sarcastic joke about the casting.
So it surprises me that this usually happy creature is now plagued with melancholy, worry, and death-related thoughts. Even worse, she gets cellulite and flat feet—the two horsemen of the Barbie apocalypse for our Barbie movie first impressions.
The Blurring of Reality
The other Barbies are terrified by this transformation to Barbie’s physique, which is played for laughs, but it’s essential to the story and to Gerwig’s goals in our Barbie movie first impressions. Barbie gets guidance from a misfit doll (the incomparable Kate McKinnon) as her feet hit the ground, and the doll’s advice includes wearing Birkenstocks and going out into the real world.
Barbie soon embarks on a trip into what could as well be a reality with Ken riding shotgun; the fact that they end up in Los Angeles reads like a witty joke. There, Ken is thrilled to learn about patriarchy while Barbie is shocked to learn about sexism, two insights that are incongruous but nevertheless funny and even enlightening.
Gerwig manages the change between worlds with ease, but even in this upbeat, joyful film, reality turns out to be a misery. Barbie jokingly refers to a billboard full of women as the Supreme Court since that is how the court appears in Barbie Land, only with more pink. Gerwig wants to make the point that she realizes how mistaken she was in our Barbie movie first impressions. But the weight of our reality, symbolized for this audience at least by the real Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, proves to be too great.
Regardless of how politically incisive the joke is, it serves as an uncomfortable reminder of all the deeply unfunny ways that this world, with its apparent and invisible hands, attempts to control and box in women.
Barbie’s Controversial History
Barbie and the real world have long been at odds, despite Mattel’s efforts. The doll was created by Mattel founder Ruth Handler because she wanted a doll for girls like her daughter, Barbara. With a German doll named Bild Lilli that Mattel modified into an adult-looking doll, Handler got her inspiration in Europe. Some customers objected: “The idea of a doll with breasts was not received well,” Handler stated in a 1994 interview with Lilith magazine.
Barbie’s breasts and the rest of her figure were nevertheless criticized, even by doctors who specialize in treating body dysmorphia, raising questions about their Barbie movie first impressions. In recent years, Mattel has made an effort to make the doll more culturally relevant by expanding its product line to include careers as well as new merchandise.
During a period of slow sales, a 2015 Mattel advertisement made the claim that “When a girl plays with Barbie, she imagines everything she can become.” Its Fashionistas line, which also included petite, curvy, and tall versions, featured various facial forms, eye colors, and skin tones. This diversity has been successful. The Barbie movie featuring Robbie as the star was confirmed by Mattel in 2019 awaiting our Barbie movie first impressions.
Robbie is a standout onscreen actor, and in this role, she plays a traditional blond bombshell who has more going on than the sexist cliché suggests. Her transformation is endearing and delicately phased; you can feel the light gradually coming on behind her eyes. In the same way that America Ferrera’s empathetic Mattel employee warms the picture, Robbie enlarges and deepens its emotions.
That’s especially important because Gosling’s deadpan delivery and boy-band dance steps, as well as Ken’s comic obtuseness and storyline, frequently detract from the actress and her role. Regardless of the narrative intent, Barbie’s speech effectively implies that only the Kens of the world need to have their consciousness elevated in our Barbie movie first impressions.
Barbie may initially be confused by the actual world, but she quickly adjusts. Given that Mattel teamed with Warner Bros. for this film and is placing a significant bet on it, that is exactly what you would anticipate. Her big cast (including Will Ferrell, Issa Rae, Simu Liu, Dua Lipa, Helen Mirren, Michael Cera, etc.) and, for the most part, avoiding the difficult paradoxes and criticisms that hang to the doll are how Gerwig, for her part, manages to make sense of it in our Barbie movie first impressions.
While Gerwig does include a few glints of criticism, such as when a teen girl accuses Barbie of encouraging materialism just before befriending our protagonist, these feel more like winks at the adults in the audience than actual criticism.
The snow globe from Citizen Kane, the male “meaning” of Coppola’s The Godfather, and fanboyish emotional overinvestment in Zack Snyder’s director’s cut of Justice League are among the references that are made as in-jokes. Barbie, however, is always inclusive, so mature older critics looking for clever film references will find just as much to shout about as young(ish) fans raised on such animated classics as Barbie in the Nutcracker and Barbie of Swan Lake.
Gerwig’s most recent film, like her excellent 2019 version of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women, has no intention of alienating the primary audience for its original material, even as it permits individuals with more snobbish cinephile tastes to justify their appreciation of her movie by comparing it to canonical works in our Barbie movie first impressions.
The clever screenplay, co-written with Noah Baumbach, brings to mind Mattel’s shameful withdrawal of models that outraged customers and retailers (e.g., Earring Magic Ken, Palm Beach Sugar Daddy, inflatable breasts Skipper). The entire thing comes to a head in a fun and feisty breakdown of male power (“He took your home; he brainwashed your friends; he wants to control the government”), boosted by Gosling’s deliciously vacuous apex-Ken performance and carried high by Robbie, without whom this audacious flim-flam might have fallen flat on its face in our Barbie movie first impressions.
Our Barbie Movie First Impressions: In Summary
Rhea Perlman’s touching cameo as the instigator of all this madness adds a sense of sincere melancholy to the film. However, Robbie and Gerwig are responsible for making this film pop by making sure that everything is fantastic even when it isn’t (together with the production designers and songwriters).
The Barbie movie is fundamentally a much-needed celebration of womanhood. This is made clear in one of the movie’s most understated yet powerful scenes, which takes place early on in Barbie’s journey into the real world and shows her sobbing at a bus stop since nothing appears to be going her way. As she turns to look, she notices an elderly woman being portrayed by Ann Roth, a well-known costume designer (old age doesn’t exist in Barbie Land).
She is addressed by Barbie with a grin and the compliment “You’re beautiful.” With a calm smile, the woman just says, “I know.” In hindsight, Barbie’s decision to enter the real world is preceded by this profoundly humanistic and emotional encounter in our Barbie movie first impressions. Barbie seemed to be appreciating the importance of all that a real woman is and all that she subsequently decides to be.
The real-life female characters that Barbie encounters demonstrate to her how women may succeed in a world that frequently works against them by cooperating. While Barbie is a movie that anybody can watch and enjoy, it is ultimately a film made by women, about women, and for women. We will definitely see this movie again.