- Dina Reviews, Looking at TV and Film
Dina Reviews: The Barbie Movie
- July 23, 2023
I’m going to do something unusual for me here and open not with a presentation of what I’m reviewing, but with my blunt opinion of it. And I realize that this might be a controversial opinion, but I’ve never been a stranger to contrary opinions…. so here it is:
The Barbie movie was okay. Just okay. Not great. I giggled at a few of the jokes, I was suitably impressed by the aesthetics, but the plot was kind of a nonsensical mess, the characters were unengaging, and the satire wasn’t quite as biting as the moviemakers thought it was. I’m not sorry I watched it, but I’m not doing to run back to the movie theatre to watch it again either. If it ever shows up on a streaming service I’m on, I might re-watch a few scenes, but probably not the entire movie.
Now, from what I’ve seen online, people either love this movie or they hate it. I do neither… but it might have something to do with how I’m not really in any of the camps.
People who loved the movie seem to be women who have some kind of sentimental attachement to Barbie, and (other than really liking that Life in the Dreamhouse series on Youtube) I don’t. I never owned a Barbie when I was little. I had lots of stuffed toys, dolls that represented Disney characters and Pokemon, Bratz dolls, Ninja Turtles action figures and probably some other toys I don’t remember, but no Barbies. I have some vague memories of playing with a Skipper, but that may have belonged to my cousin.
People who HATED the movie seem to mostly consist of guys who use “woke” as a swear word and complain about movies getting “political” if they have more than one major female character… and obviously I’m not one of those people. (I don’t even know what those guys expected from a Barbie movie.)
But since I’m me…. like I said, I just throught the movie was okay. I thought it had a lot of potential that it didn’t quite live up to; there were some really neat ideas that went underexplored and some really biting satire that somehow managed to be dreadfully unsubtle and at the same time not going as far or deep as it should have… and it had some really neat ideas and good messages that it didn’t quite stick to. The result was a movie that was often a lot of fun, but felt kind of half-hearted.
Now, it’s a very SELF-AWARE movie. It’s quite open about how Barbie was conceived as, and has been presented as, this glamorous and independent career woman that little girls can be inspired by and aspire to… but at the same time it acknowledges that this is NOT the general public image of her, and that stereotypically she’s been viewed more as a vapid and beauty-obsessed bimbo. The original positive message has kind of vanished a little in a lot of pink, glitter, impossible beauty standards, and a shallow image of pseudo-perfection. The movie GETS that, especially with its presentation of its main setting, “Barbieland.”
Because Barbieland, the moment we start the movie, is presented as this pink and glittery female utopia where anyone can do anything, everyone is super-positive, friendly and supportive, and every day is perfectly perfect, but it’s almost immediately also revealed as shallow and superficial, mocking and unaccepting of anything that deviates even slightly from the norm. The Barbies can do anything, yes… but if you’re not a Barbie you’re out of luck. Non-Barbies like Skipper, Midge and Allan are just kind of there in the background, and the various Kens are mainly just there as accessories and eyecandy. The Barbies are also incredibly sheltered and self-centered, believing that they have singlehandedly ended sexism and female oppression everywhere just by existing and being perfect.
It’s like an edgier, more cynical version of Life in the Dreamhouse, which also repeatedly poked fun of Barbie’s image and history, but in a much more kid-friendly and lighthearted way. So I was totally on board for, oh, almost half the movie. Then I started to realize that I didn’t like any of the characters. Or rather… I didn’t like the MAIN characters. The main Barbie and Ken were just… unlikeable. She was self-centered, intolerant and passive-aggressive, and he was essentially a creepy “Nice Guy” stalker that transformed into a sexist dudebro the moment he realized that he could.
There were plenty of characters that were a lot more interesting and a lot more likeable… Weird Barbie, for instance, was awesome as the imperfect eccentric that nobody liked, and I kind of wished the entire movie had been about her. There were also a few fun characters with the “discontinued” characters like Video Girl Barbie, Pregnant Midge, and Growing Up Skipper (whose boobs grow enormous if you rotate her arm), and the hint that they were the outsiders, the discarded… and yet they’re barely in the movie at all. Weird Barbie mainly spouts exposition, and the others are just jokes. Even Allan, who is set up as being an important character, and is one of the few chars in the movie who’s actually likeable, doesn’t actually DO anything other than make a couple of well-placed observations that nobody ever listens to..
But I suppose that’s the thing. The main Barbie kind of suffers from the same problem as a lot of main characters: Ultimately everything HAS to be about HER. So when she briefly finds herself as an outcast, that is the Worst Thing Ever… but the ACTUAL outcasts, the marginalized people, the ones who live their entire lives in the shadows and have never been accepted, are just background noise and comedy relief. There’s a token mention at the end about how Weird Barbie can be accepted by society again now that she’s helped solve the plot, but the other outcasts barely get anything. Because this isn’t ultimately about how unfair the world was to them, but about what a horrible tragedy it was that the main Barbie briefly became one of them.
This is main character bias at its finest… I might write a post on that sometime, actually, because I see it present in a LOT of stories, and I have TONS of issues with it. And one of the issues I have with it is… well, one of the main problems with this movie: The main Barbie freaks out at not being perfect anymore, but she’s still played by Margot Robbie and she still essentially gets absolutely everything while the ACTUAL outcasts like Weird Barbie don’t get anything but a bit of lip service. And it’s not hard to notice that these actual outcasts are the ones who are queer-coded, have Barbie versions of disabilities or are otherwise representations for oppressed minorities… but the character who hogs all the attention, the one we’re supposed to feel bad for, is the white, blonde, able-bodied cishet woman.
This movie is not as open and accepting as it THINKS it is. Sure, it’s NICE that the successful, “accepted” barbies include black women and Asian women, and even a transgender woman and (gasp!) an overweight woman… but they get no attention and are just background characters.
Some it it can be blamed on lack of time. There are plots and ideas for like three really good movies in this movie, but it tries to be all those three movies at once, and as a result it doesn’t have the time to really be any of them. The script tries to tackle issues connected to feminism, misogyny, misandry and the patriarchy, but honestly it never goes any further than the surface level and comes across a lot more gender essentialist than the scriptwriters probably intended…. and ultimately it doesn’t provide any solutions or alternatives.
I will admit I giggled a little at Ken introducing patriarchy to Barbieland, which for some reason means that everyone (except the dicontinued characters, Weird Barbie and Allan) immediately become the worst sexist stereotypes ever, all the Kens are dudebro manchildren and all the Barbies are brainless bimbos… but the plot becomes a mess, and it’s not long before the jokes just get lazy and go the “boys are so pathetic” route. By the time they began lamenting how stupid it is to be invested in the Zach Snyder cut of The Justice League, I started wondering if the writers from The Big Bang Theory had taken over the script. I was waiting for a laugh track to be inserted.
It’s not as bad as that all the way through. I think they really did want to say something about gender expectations and how they are impossible to live up to. The problem is that… like I said, they focused on the wrong characters for it.
I still had a good time watching the movie. But I totally disagree with the people who say it was too woke and too political. I say it wasn’t woke or political ENOUGH. It should have gone even further; it should have revelled in the imperfections, it should have shown more characters and their struggles, and it should have starred Weird Barbie.
Oh well… maybe some other movie. In the meantime, I think I’ll rewatch some episodes of Life in the Dreamhouse.