By Aaron Isenstein
A Glittering, Generation-Defining Spectacle
Many of my earliest memories revolve around Barbie. Whether it was forcing my mom to let me go to the doll aisle in K-Mart or forcing my sleep-deprived dad just home from work to play elaborate scenarios with me, Barbie had a strong presence in my formative years. However, as I grew older, like middle schooler Sasha (Ariana Greenblaat) who exclaims that “we don’t play with Barbies anymore,” I tried to discard anything to do with Barbie. My middle school experience consisted of rejecting femininity and telling myself my gender identity could only exist in masculinity. It’s only been since the pandemic I’ve had the opportunity to rediscover myself and embrace femininity again. Alongside this, I developed a deep love for filmmaking. I particularly found myself connecting with the films of Greta Gerwig’s, and I found my film taste leaning more feminine. I grew up on DVD Barbie movies and Disney Princesses, and my current taste is quite literally just a more adult version of that. When Gerwig’s Barbie movie was announced, I knew it would be something special. After all, one of my favorite filmmakers was making a Barbie movie with my favorite actress. I spent the years it was in development defending Barbie and telling everyone that it would be something special. It wasn’t Gerwig “selling out”, it was a passion project!
Well guess fucking what. Barbie is not merely “something special”. Barbie is a cultural phenomenon and a once-in-a-lifetime event. Some of this can be attributed to the Barbenheimer memes, sure, but it’s so much more than that. I’ve seen Barbie twice now, and both times my theater has been completely packed. It was beautiful seeing an entire crowd in pink, having never met one another, experience an emotional and cultural moment together. Barbie isn’t just a gut-bustingly hilarious comedy about the doll, it’s also an introspective look into the harm of gender roles and how the patriarchy hurts both men and women. Beyond that, Barbie is a love letter to the idea of humanity.
At the core of Barbie is a pitch-perfect script by Greta Gerwig and Noah Baumbach. It’s full of lines that individually are some of the funniest of all time and work together beautifully to develop a meaningful message. The usage of humor, especially in some of the absurd plotlines they throw out, reflects on how ridiculous our world is. It works in every possible way, and not to be hyperbolic, but some of the gags pulled here have greatest of all time potential.
And of course, there are the brilliant performances of the stars. Margot Robbie IS Barbie. It’s the role she was born to play, and no one else could do it like her. She shines here, as the genuine charisma and innocence of Barbie are made clear from just her eyes. She handles the emotional beats like a genius, feeling real (despite playing Barbie!) and grounded. The internet hype for Ryan Gosling’s Ken is also absolutely warranted. He may not be quite as good as Robbie, but he nonetheless gives one of the funniest performances I’ve ever seen. His physicality is godly, as throughout the entire film his little facial expressions or movements can make a scene. His line readings are incredible and instantly iconic. There’s also the overlooked performance of America Ferrera’s Gloria, a human mother whose journey parallels Barbie’s. People may find her big monologue awkward or artificial, but to me it was authentic and necessary. But despite the three above performances being the clear standouts, the entire Barbieland ensemble is just stupendous. Despite having little screen-time, all the Barbies and Kens are great! Michael Cera’s Allan is also one of the funniest parts of the film.
Honestly, Barbieland in general is just perfect. The set design is gorgeous, creative, and flawless, while the costumes must have been plucked from a Barbie fan’s wildest dreams. There’s an attention to detail that’s supreme, with even background references to iconic Barbie moments from the past.
But while these elements are spectacular, they thankfully take a backseat to the message Barbie is trying to send. While Barbieland is purely feminine, the real world is not. Barbie explores the idea that the patriarchy also hurts men, and while the feminism featured may not be the most nuanced radical feminism, what it does say is important. If even one man is able to see the world differently because of Barbie, it’s an abject triumph for feminism.
As someone who had a complicated relationship with femininity, Barbie has not once left my mind since I first saw it. It’s a film so important to me in ways that are difficult to explain, though I did my best here. Barbie is an instant classic that’s an important watch for everyone, regardless of gender.