This is Barbie, and this is a phenom. At Wanaka’s Cinema Paradiso on a minus 2C Thursday night they were queuing out the door.
In Barbieland all the Supreme Court justices are Barbies, construction teams are Barbies, the president is a Barbie, everything with any agency is Barbie. The Kens at best just ‘do beach’.
It is an exceedingly partisan unsubtle pro-Democrat anti-Republican film without mentioning either party. Reality becomes too hard for Barbie world to self-sustain and things Must Be Done. Men who try to take over anything end up weeping that power is too hard for them to bear.
It is produced by Mattel. The film ruthlessly parodies Mattel’s board as 100% male and shallow as cupcakes. The real Mattel board is 7 men and 5 women, which is about proportionate to most Fortune 500 companies now.
Perhaps the funniest part for me is the Ken dance-off, which is strikingly similar to the jarring dark Expressionist dance-off in the film Oklahoma. Ken in all his forms is absolutely self-shredded in a pink-flavoured Beat It.
My audience was about 70% women and they laughed and laughed.
The politics of Barbie is intensely real. On the same day as I saw Barbie, Ohio voters rejected a Republican state proposal to require that all future state proposals could only be overturned by 60%. It was overwhelmingly rejected. Winning would have made it far harder to enshrine abortion rights. The very strong turnout showed as it did in 2020, that the route to power for Democrats is solely with women. The last line in the film is Barbie saying “I’m here to see my gynaecologist” in case you didn’t get the point over 2 hours.
Barbie was pretty much the same as the tv series The Handmaid’s Tale, except with better costumes and actual jokes. Both are a parody of patriarchy, its damage to all and what to do. Both really only made sense in countries which already have very strong women’s rights assumptions operating already, unlike most of South America, almost all of Africa, the Middle East, Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Laos, … Melanesia, Polynesia, and … anywhere else women have very limited agency.
You will love Barbie if you loved Pinnocchio the 1940 version
or Toy Story the 1995 original
because Barbie heads straight to the point of reviving analogue play to invite girls to project kinds of moral existence into inanimate objects and to will them to transcend their material constraints and in fact be alive.
The costumes sparkle with a concentrated sugar-saturated glee that truly outflanks anything Wes Anderson could put out. And if you love films you will love the multiple visual film-quotes from the very start.
So yes it is didactic. Its parodies are annoying. There are of course no sex scenes like America: World Police because as we know Ken only has a plastic lump. The strict binary of genders is the construct that holds up the entire sky of this movie. Don’t come to Barbieland looking for an extended discussion about capitalism, racism, inequality, poverty, LGBTQ issues, environmentalism, or anything except Barbie and Ken and the issues they make and have to deal with.
The director is Greta Gerwig not Ken Loach, and the progressive politics are all the more effective for it.
Expect it to head straight to the quandaries and virtues of American women. It does so with such evident box office popularity, that I bet it will do quite a lot as a mobilising element in regaining Democrat balance in Congress (maybe not the Senate) and the White House.
So Barbie just might save the world.