Barbie was the first movie I watched after seeing Sound of Freedom for a third time. I mean, if the local Right Wingers are going to keep buying all the tickets…why not sit in an empty air conditioned theater? Somewhere between the broadcast television quality morality play about a serious subject, something dawned on me. All cinema are childish morality plays built for an audience of ever aging yet never maturing modern audiences. If you think you’re not part of, then you already failed.
Rhea Perlman shaved her legs for this?
Rhea Perlman plays the primordial Barbie creator who at Mattel Corp tells Barbie that humans have endings, but ideas are forever. With that, we begin examining the gist behind Barbie. Given that it’s hammered in with the grace of George Lucas explaining Kurosawa to his neighbors’ Asian Gen Z kids, the average American will be able to understand it. Naturally, expect people to get upset.
The world of Barbie is found in its Barbieland. This is a metaphysical plain where the ideas behind the toys live and thrive. Given the nature of the plastic toys as being mental energy conduits to this world, the toys start to break down when they handlers project enough of their ideas into Barbieland. America Ferrara plays a Mattel employee named Gloria who feels like she’s losing touch and her daughter.
This impacts Stereotypical Barbie (Margot Robbie) who begins have thoughts of death and questioning her existence. Our heroine’s quest kicks off in earnest, as this ever-pressing thoughts press her to leave Barbieland for the real world with Stereotypical Ken. What happens next is a child’s first Identity Politics primer coupled with a basic mother-daughter tale.
Fake women in a fake world fighting fake men for not subscribing to their fake world
This is where we get into spoilers, so if you want to back out now…this is the time.
The main thrust of Barbie is that in the central figure’s quest to find purpose and meaning, she ends up bringing the ideal Barbie and Ken into the real world. When they return to Barbieland, their experiences with reality corrupt the dual equality of the genders into weird childish monstrosities of ego somehow stifling individuality. But, not in a way that is ever seen as overpowering.
When Ken returns from the real world to Barbieland, he teaches the others about Patriarchy and the Kens fight to stop being treated as a sub class of individuals and overpower their female counterparts. This is done with street clothes resembling a raid on a mid 80s music video shoot coupled with a musical number. Barbie returns and is asked by the other Barbies to help them put down this Ken rebellion.
By the way, the whole concept of a subjugated class of citizens being crushed under the authority of an opinionated blonde white woman should not be lost on anyone. That being said, it’s a world of plastic dolls, so this Rebellion ends with an acceptance of the doll genders living together again. But, the utopia reverts back to female leadership, as the men were stupid to think they had an right to anger and a desire to lead their world. The fellas are going to love this movie.
Why I rewatched Altman’s Popeye after watching Gerwig’s Barbie
Have you ever seen Robert Altman’s Popeye? I can understand if the typical site reader had missed the film, especially since it rarely stays in the streaming realm for long. But, that Disney/Paramount co-production was met with derision by taking a kid property and anchoring it to adult subjects. People bitched and moaned and then they spent the other money on other things. People remembered the music and then it dropped off so people could go watch Ordinary People for an 8th time.
That won’t happen this time, as we live in a society predicated by people remembering the things they enjoyed before their brains formed. We live in a world of adults with Barbie pink clutches and work cell phones adorned to look like Game Boys. All cultural browsing aside, I had to mentally return to a time when indulging in childhood entertainment for adults was a novelty rather than every other weekend at the cinema.
What did I learn from it? Well, it’s a little bit the curse of the auteur and a little bit of misreading an audience. There will always be people that will approach a film based on a love for the core property. Barbie will draw a crowd, because she’s been doing it for decades now. It’s easy to do and the natural benefit for being an established intellectual property.
But, don’t expect everyone to appreciate using said IP as anything more than confirmation of the familiar. While cinema is meant to engage and provoke, a generous portion of adults prefer that coming in the vessel of a new adult narrative. In fact, the idea that a serious look at overpowering gender politics was snuck into probably the most young female focused film in years will hit weird.
Influencers vs. Film Twitter
Much was made of the promotional lead-up to Barbie’s release. Specifically how Influencers were getting increased review and event access to Barbie while many mainline critics and Film Twitter individuals were getting squeezed out. This has been an ongoing trend, but it seemingly peaked with Barbie. Naturally, if you have a bunch of semi-academics getting cut off from their supply, you should expect a bit of backlash.
But, why did it happen? As someone who keeps a foot in both worlds, I’ve come to realize something. You will go broke hoping and praying for the intellectual curiosity of the American public to be enough. As everyone pivoted to video and the cultural tastemaking and kingmaking was removed from the Coasts and given to everyone with a smartphone, things changed. Now, we have screenings for TikTok influencers with 250 views that end up trashing theaters and barely doing anything than promoting themselves.
Yet, you got to go where the audience is…right? The audience is barely known people making videos with corporate provided CG filters and pink shirts talking for 20 seconds about the movie they just saw. Hell, they might not even name what happened in the movie correctly. But, it’s all about the experience!
When we watch movies now
Nicole Kidman walked, so Margot Robbie could run. This isn’t some study of Australian actresses hitting it big in America. It all returns back to that AMC commercial you all fetishized.
Watch that commercial on repeat. Stick it in your brain and then go see Barbie. Now watch a recent interview with Margot Robbie promoting Barbie. Don’t worry, I queued one up.
Here’s a more recent one.
Picking up the parallel yet? When selling the fantasy out of the mundane, both women drop their pretense and slip into natural presentation. You hear their accents, you see them step back to let the subject matter prop itself up. It’s an understanding of the assignment that works on so many levels that are primarily commercial, but also speak greatly about intent.
While serving as the star and main producer of Barbie, Margot Robbie is directly responsible for what you are presented onscreen. Hell, there’s nothing going on that you might doubt whose vision are we seeing: Gerwig or Robbie?
Much has been made in the film watching community of how Gerwig is selling out or breaking into the studio system. Honestly, it’s trite. Indie directors have been doing it for ages and the only reason this happened is because Robbie selected her. Much like John Wayne and Paul Newman picking directing talent in yesteryear, the pattern holds the same.
The Cinema Not Made For You Occupying Your Space
The popular move now among our critical elite is to call attention to how cinema is for everyone. Which is true. But, also how that universal appeal makes things seemingly unquestionable to any deriders. While it’s not fun to have someone “yucking your yum”, it’s the absence of such a notion that has produced some of the worst art and mental processes of the modern era.
Barbie is not bad and Barbie isn’t astounding. It’s another in a long line of films with an agenda that it doesn’t totally execute for one reason or the other. The very notion that it would be trying to say something is enough to get half of the country into a tizzy, while the lack of defining the message will make the other side angrier. No one leaves the Barbie experience totally pleased, but wondering WHAT IF for this film and any possible sequel.
The idea that you can expect a fair reading of this film over the next 72 hours is laughable. Between natural bias, corporate aggregates editing new realities together and the generally ill-informed spouting into an ever-expanding void…the cinematic space grows deeper and deeper into an ever expanding landfill of content.
When cinema becomes an event, it loses its focus
Much has been made of Barbenheimer and we’re all worse for it. Sure, it’s getting movie theaters buzzing in the midst of a lackluster summer and dual strikes pounding our creative industries. But, what is the gain? When even the biggest blockbusters can’t escape the financial gain black hole, are we supposed to applaud giving the dying cinematic exhibition industry a few gasps of air to be something other than torture?
Most people that actually still go out to theaters will be visiting to see Barbie out of immediate need. There will even be a few weirdos in Barbenheimer shirts calling attention to the new event they discovered from the Internet. Everyone approaches Barbie with their own demands, but what about those watching the film as a film?
Does it even matter anymore? Are we just forgone to treating any major release as an ideological battleground of the lazy vs. the cliche vs. the concerned? I do have to say that the sheer amount of empty showing for Sound of Freedom is making for a great shared work space.
Barbie is an idea and your mileage may vary
Much is made of “The Truman Show” style underpinnings of Barbie. But, it’s about more than that. It’s Proust for beginners and its shallow nature almost suits the property in a twisted way. There are jokes about the lack of genitals. Hell, even that gets flipped into a preachy message about growing up and inheriting your womanly truth.
A part of me hopes to see that someone walks away from Barbie having gained something. But, I can’t help but shake that it has the longevity of an Instagram post of Morgan Freeman saying a Deepak Chopra quote and then having credited to the wrong person. But, you have to meet your audience where they live.
Reading scientific whitepapers after a dual viewing of Sound of Freedom and Barbie
This is what we dub a callback. Having dealt with many psych professionals and related doctors in my friend group/community…I actively find myself studying the things they bring up. Specifically the repeated statements of how boys and girls approach their toy play.
Boys buy into the universes and rules that come along with their toy. Things are definite, but the actions they take inside of a fictional Gotham City, Sherwood Forest and Metropolis is where they can find their play.
Girls take established toys and related roles, then find ways to ground them in what they enjoy. Batman and Superman will have tea parties and then ride horses together with Darkseid. Why? Well, because the stereotypical little girl in question wants to do those activities regardless of prescribed toy lore.
To keep the typical audience reading to the end, I’ll just go Something, Something Kathleen Kennedy.
The people that will find fault with Barbie
Barbie is a ridiculous movie to ruin your day. But, Western Civilization keeps finding new ways to find exciting new outlets to challenge their paper thin notions of what matters. It’s fascinating to observe as a student of cultural wars, but it’s also meandering as a strong disciple of isolated interrogation.
Everything about the movie falls apart upon questioning. However, I can’t help but shake the mental image of Allen and Midge setting up Barbie to destroy the Ken Revolution with a statement of things worked better with the ruling class in charge. So, shut up and restore the peace or there will be hell to pay.
Some things never change, as those that would pretend to be revolutionaries constantly find themselves enjoying the role of the oppressor. I can’t wait for Barbie to hit home video and more open platforms where audiences can dwell on Barbie bending Ken into subservience and stating he has no identity without the former ruling class returning to power.
After all, he’s just a Ken.