July 30, 2023 – “Barbie” is another surprise summer hit this year, along with “The Super Mario Bros. Movie.” Two cotton candy movies that work very hard at being entirely inoffensive.
“Barbie” takes us to the very colorful, mostly pink world of Barbieland, where a kind of bimbo feminism holds sway. All the women are successful and powerful, and all the men, mostly Ken models, are pretty boy eye candy types, who lounge around and do nothing of consequence.
One day a stereotypical Barbie (played by Margot Robbie of “The Suicide Squad”) suddenly has thoughts about death, and she also discovers that she has cellulite and flat feet. She seeks out the wisdom of the outcast Weird Barbie (played by Kate McKinnon of “Ghostbusters”) who tells her she must go to the real world and find the child who is playing with her doll in order to discover why she is changing.
She sets off for the real world, with Ken (Ryan Gosling) tagging along as a stowaway in Barbie's pink Corvette. As Barbie and Ken interact with people in the real world, it causes significant changes in Barbieland, and some changes in the real world too. Ken discovers a largely patriarchal society, likes the idea, and takes it back to Barbieland, where it causes a revolution.
Barbie discovers that a worker at Mattel Corporation, Gloria (America Ferrera of the “Ugly Betty” TV series) where Barbies are made, has become unhappy. Gloria's sad Barbie drawings are the source of Barbie's problems in Barbieland. When Mattel executives find out Barbie has come to the real world, they set out to put her back in her box, but she escapes back into Barbieland, along with Gloria and Gloria's daughter, Sasha (Ariana Greenblatt of “65”). The three are pursued to Barbieland by Mattel executives.
The barrier between Barbieland and the real world has been breached and neither world will be the same again. Barbie, Weird Barbie, Gloria and Sasha try to reverse the patriarchal revolution unleashed by Ken, but it appears that Barbieland is never going back to what it was.
The movie walks a fine line between feminism and fantasy. It never really addresses sexuality, since Barbieland appears to an entirely asexual place, where there is friendship, but no love. The opening sequences of the film, including a takeoff on the famous jump cut scene in “2001: A Space Odyssey” are simply brilliant, but the story falls apart at the end because it will not directly confront the issue of sex.
Avoiding the divisive issues of sex, love and passion is the safe, inoffensive path to profit, it seems. What you get is a warm and fuzzy movie that features empty, passionless, safe and inoffensive discourses on feminism and machismo without any satisfying conclusions. But it is clever and funny at times. The look of the movie, with its vibrant Barbieland colors, is a wonderful change from the bland way most movies look nowadays. This film rates a C+.
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