Barbie ★★★★★

oh boy, i have complicated feelings about this that i was not expecting, immediately feel i’m going to have to rewatch this soon now that i know completely what i’m getting into.

it’s hard to fully delve into my thoughts without going into spoiler territory and i don’t want to do that to anyone but greta gerwig has crafted something extraordinary and there’s a heavy weight that comes with creating such a thing and the iconography and history of barbie has a lot of baggage. it’s ironic because all the layered purposeful intertextual references to old hollywood films and yet, leaving the cinema i find myself thinking of todd haynes’ superstar: the karen carpenter story. 

though haynes’ intentions as a filmmaker were a world away from gerwig’s, it’s the way they both engage with and respond to critique of barbie that i find fascinatingly compelling and almost similar in certain regard, engaging with the commercialism and artificiality of barbie to craft genuine sincerity. yet, haynes’ production was so independent it has still seen no official release due to legal reasons and gerwig’s barbie film opens with the mattel logo alongside universal and warner bro’s. 

haynes’ film uses barbie to tell karen carpenter’s story, reminds us that every girl has wanted to be barbie and every girl has shunned barbie. gerwig’s film repeats that almost universal feeling and then asks “what do we do now ?”. i have to say that this film did do some of the things i’d exactly feared, retread tired criticism of barbie that long time fans like myself have heard but the tone of the film, it felt like one of reconciliation, coming to terms with these longstanding ideas and approaching them with a sincerity that i can’t be opposed to, even if i’ve heard it all before. 

the entire film is handled with a deft touch by gerwig (and her ken and co-writer, noah baumbach) and what truly surprised me the most was the genuinely nuanced deconstruction of the idea of ken. opposite to the conjecture of ryan gosling in that nobody thought about ken, well i have to say, i did and have thought about ken, probably more then the average person as i’ve seen every animated barbie film and approach them with the same genuine sincerity i bring to films of “higher caliber” and what i think this film really achieves through its metatextual lens is the insecurity that comes in the interchangeability of ken.

in the majority of the barbie animated films, he is never just ken, he’s a prince, he’s the love interest, he is barbie’s boyfriend and he doesn’t need to be more then that. i told letterboxd recently that ken is kind of a cringefail flop and well, gerwig certainly saw that and took it to its heightened proportions. and yes, everyone praising ryan gosling’s performance is absolutely right, he is incredible here. he brings this just completely appropriate himbo energy to the role that allows him to remain so likeable and sympathetic throughout the narrative. 

i can’t get into the narrative too much without spoiling the film and as it technically doesn’t come out til tomorrow, i won’t delve into it but it’s fascinatingly high energy, i was honestly taken aback at how quick the pacing of this film is. everything is so frenetic, particularly in the first act of the film. it’s the film’s ending where a lot of my more complicated feelings lie, for the narrative gerwig and baumbach’s script has constructed i can’t imagine the film following a different direction in being able to now picture it in my head as a whole work but i also don’t know if i like it or not. i loved this film, i think i loved this film but i also feel like my mind is unsettled, that i need to recalibrate and come back to this again.

as a lover of barbie, as a character, her history, her iconography, i knew i was likely to have a lot of thoughts about this and yet i still feel off guard but as a lover of the dolls themselves, the little outfits, the dreamhouses, the little plastic items ? this film is an absolutely dream, the scope in its set and costume design is truly unparalleled, i can’t think of another production in the past decade with such a high level of physical handmade craft, the painted backdrops, the decals on the fridge, barbie’s wardrobe ! it’s just all incredible, in an interview i remember gerwig stating she wanted to craft a world that you would just want to touch and she absolutely achieved that, above and beyond and the annoying cynic in me can’t help but think, well mattel certainly has the blueprint for a good theme park attraction. 

i think part of my complicated feelings that i can discuss to an extent is the metatextual approach, in many ways it’s a complete delight and deconstruction, it’s clever, it’s insightful, empowering and america ferrera gives a speech in this film that is delivered so well i’m aghast that people haven’t been singing her praises more in the reviews to have come out before the release but there’s that little cynic in my head from before, the one telling me it’s a lot harder to seperate brand from character, that isn’t it funny that a massive corporation is in on the joke, how fun and cool they are to let these brilliant filmmakers dress down their most precious asset like this, isn’t that just great, isn’t that just beautiful capitalism as the ceo of mattel literally flew in to try and stop a scene from being made, which honestly i couldn’t tell you which one it would have been because there’s a lot of things in this film that i was shocked they let slide but isn’t that just what mattel wants ? for me to be shocked that they would be okay with something that would poke so much fun at their brand, draw attention to their past mistakes, how daring of gerwig to do such a thing, as one of the film’s mattel execs says “that’ll make money.”

i come back to my earlier thoughts on the relationship this has in my mind to haynes’ film, truly independent filmmaking that uses barbie and her iconography as a tool but there is no tool here, this is the barbie film, this is the film that will get sequels and spin offs, this is not the tragically human *real* story of karen carpenter, this is barbie, a commodity’s approach to humanity and it’s wonderful it’s a genuinely great film but again that little cynic, it’s nagging at me, that there’s something wrong here but i can’t fully articulate what. 

i think many will love this film, i think that i love this film, but it exists in an odd place and an odd time for our cultural climate, i look to the films that gerwig was so heavily influenced by, singin’ in the rain, the wizard of oz, the truman show, 2001: a space odyssey, these are films that simply would not get made today, we couldn’t have barbie without the history before us but no films like those could exist alongside barbie right now. i don’t exactly have an answer to this question, the same one gerwig’s approach to barbie proposes, “what do we do now ?” i just don’t know. maybe we just accept life in plastic ? 

anyway i do need reeve carney as a ken in the inevitable sequel more then i need air someone please set this up once the sag strike is over i’m so serious

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