If Mattel Can Accept Barbie, So Can You

17th Dallas International Film Festival

By Alyson Powers

Mattel did not accept the concept of a Barbie Doll in the early 1950s. Forward to 2023 and a little less than half of the American population accepts Barbie as a movie. In 1955 a “Barbie” Doll named after her creator’s daughter with long legs, protruding physical attributes, and an expensive style did not appeal to the toy maker. After being presented with test dips by other countries as they began producing dolls more suitable for maturing children, Mattel agreed and followed. Ruth Handler brought the ideas. She did the work. She gave life to Barbie against the odds of an all-male committee running Mattel at the time. You will begin to see many colorful little eggs sprinkled throughout. 

It helps to know a little history when you take on any film -but particularly this one, otherwise you might come out as miffed as I did. It took me a long time to complete this as my opinion has shifted three or four times. This film has been out now for months, but to glory in those “Aha” moments (if you have been waiting to finally see it at home), it will help to know Barbie’s history. Also please, go in prepared to take on independent-female male bashing from a perspective mind of a pre-teen girl, one who would be the target market for these toys. If you do this, you might not take offense.

Opening weekend and half the nation rose to an uproar. Like a pink gun aimed at the weaknesses of men. It’s Declaration? Men don’t belong. Ok, but remember, this film is for teenage girls and if not for them at least from their perspective. Coincidentally, Barbie opened alongside Oppenheimer also exposing weakness of men from a much more dangerous angle. Why was the birth of a nuclear weapon accepted when the Barbie movie was not? This movie is cute, and funny, if you can compartmentalize out the patriarchy vs. matriarchy focus. And you don’t need a review from me to tell you how popular it is. Barbie broke records on opening weekend and continues to do.

If you haven’t seen it yet, in short, main character, stereotypical Barbie played by Margot Robbie (I Tonya, Suicide Squad) wakes up to an existential and physical crisis, or honestly just some uncomfortable changes, happening because her person in the real-world struggles with the concept that “real” women just can’t be good enough. Her Ken, Ryan Gosling (do I need to put his movies here?) travels with her to find and fix her human. He sees how men behave badly in the real world and are dominating at behaving badly. He returns without Barbie and motivates the other Kens to rule Barbieland as it seems macho~utopian in California. In the end, and throughout, Barbie just doesn’t need Ken. Neither do teenage girls. They need to figure out who they are. 

In this regard? The film is a success. It’s acting class acting style and cookiness will entertain kids just enough without triggering confusion of identity. Adults will get what they are meant to get. All the colors and smiles and toys and goofiness distract you from what is really happening. And I’ve decided to not go into a metaphysical dissertation because that might just be me feeling offense of something that is actually in motion right now. If only it could stay light. It took a paradigm shift after a week or so for me to approach Barbie differently. Regardless of offense and or extensive challenges to world issues and psychological beliefs, the movie as a technical piece isn’t superior in its put-together. 

Greta Gerwig directs and ties in with her background of projects focused on female units, finding peace with oneself and with peers, along similar lines of Little Women and Lady Bird. Her skill in pulling heart strings can be felt definitely more than once but her lack of guidance takes away from the emotional goal. Following its last twenty minutes of circus acts, contradictions abound. And boredom. Our “lessons” pontificated by a minimum of three characters claim to empower women only to wipe out its importance? I guess since stereotypical Barbie doesn’t actually DO anything? I keep trying to have an epiphany and it just never springs, even through writing. 

A class-like group discussion on this matter travels through several scenes finally landing on a scene with Ken. The first moment you really feel Ken and his deep repressed pain is when, in a completely out of place burst, he screams “you let me down!” And right there! ALMOST, you almost get something that never reaches a peak. The hush hushed part of something craved in understanding Barbie and Ken’s relationship is brushed off about the same time Ken slides down the front of a hummer only seconds later. It’s these last scenes with Ken that boggle sensibility. Maybe I’m old school. Maybe his parts aren’t important. But then why use him as a prop.

It’s a fun little mess. From a miraculous mom / daughter recovery with no real cause for repair, to a scene where the CEO (Will Ferrell) and a flock of an all-male board chase Barbie into Barbieland in order to save America. What does work are the little eggs as I tried to open with in this review. Bashing aside. It isn’t too terrible. I’ve seen it three times. And again, pretend you’re a teenage girl. This is the market. Gerwig chose the creator of Barbie played by Rhea Perlman (Cheers) who grounds this fantasy and sprinkles it with nostalgia. Barbie just wants teenage girls and adult women to get to know and love who they are.

And no, teenage girls (nor adult women) need Ken.

15th Dallas International Film Festival