Who is the new Barbie movie for?
Comment by Johannes Holzer
The trailer to the hotly anticipated summer blockbuster has Warner Brothers tell us with certainty that, “If you love Barbie, this movie is for you.”, but also, “If you hate Barbie, this movie is for you.”. Finally, the move has hit cinemas. Here my attempt at explaining: “Who is this movie for?”
If you love Barbie, this movie is for you
Ever since the luxury brand, Valentino brought its Pink PP Collection to the catwalk in 2022, pink has been back on everyone’s mind again. After that, there was no stopping the Barbiecore trend. So Barbie, the movie, was released just in time to don one’s best pink outfit and declare a visit to the cinema with friends a must-see event. The movie offers the full dose of greatly anticipated Barbie nostalgia. Margot Robbie as a stereo-typical Barbie has a lot of fun being happy in Barbie Land. Like Reese Witherspoon as Elle Woods in Legally Blonde in 2001, Margot understands that the anti-intellectualism of a Barbie doll is not the same as a lack of intellectualism. This Barbie, after all, is very much able, amongst other things, to deal with the concept of death.
If you hate Barbie, this movie is for you
Granted, you need not be the American women’s rights advocate, Gloria Steinem to hold back your cheers following the announcement of the new Barbie movie. The iconic doll has always been closely connected with societal discussions on feminism. Hence, the perfect assignment for its director, Greta Gerwig. Her first two movies, Ladybird and Little Women, already depicted women’s reality under the patriarchy without compromise.
Barbie is happy in Barbie Land. She showed young girls around the world that as a woman, you can be anything. Before that, there were only dolls for acting out the role as a mother. In the meantime, Barbies have reached all professions – from physician to astronaut. And at the top of Barbie Land is President Barbie, which Mattel launched way back in 1992. Barbie is proud of having solved all problems of feminism in the real world. But she needs to find out fast that reality looks quite different.
You can only pause in awe of Mattel’s courage to step into the line of fire of its own history with this movie. It takes less than 30 minutes before Barbie is called a fascist by a group of girls in the real world and starts to cry. And it is no coincidence that Mattel staff are all male in this movie. Led by non-other than the (unfortunately) slightly tamed Will Ferrell acting as CEO, it is about money, and money only right until the end of the movie for him. Of course, the jokes could have been meaner and the comments even more vicious in these parts of the movie. But Mattel does not shy away from criticism. The cynic in me must admit ungrudgingly that this is a stroke of genius marketing. The statement is that one is well aware of the role that Barbie played in our society in the past, and that they are challenging this so as to ask the question at the end of the movie: Where can Barbie go to in this modern world?
If you are a woman or a man, or are not easily pigeonholed – this movie is for you
This movie could have easily focused on the rich inner life of its main protagonist. What happens to Barbie once she meets the patriarchy in the real world? After all, everything functions to perfection in Barbie Land – women are in power here, while the Kens are living up the vibe on the beach. Yet Greta Gerwig has just as much love for Ken – played to Oscar-perfection by Ryan Gosling. After all, the structures in our world also impact men. Ken has to go on his own journey, to find out if he is Kenough. In the end, as a man, I found myself to be remarkably comfortable with and understood by this movie.
And then there’s Alan. Portrayed beautifully by Michael Cera, who is not really a Ken, cannot identify with him, and prefers to hang out with the Barbies. But he does not really fit in with them either and – just like Weird Barbie (great performance by Kate McKinnon) – is an outsider in perfect Barbie Land.
Lastly, America Ferrara’s monologue boils it down as to what it all feels like. It thus comes as no surprise to read about people applauding during her scene in some cinemas.
If you like working yourself up, this movie is for you
This woke stuff is taking things too far? Not to worry: The movie offers plenty of room for misunderstanding. Hence, it didn’t take too long before the first conservative voices started to call it an anti-male movie, describing it as the final proof of an all-encompassing LGBTQ+ agenda. And to have Ryan Gosling flirt on the big screen with a Barbie played by the transgender actor, Hari Nef?! However, since Hari Nef plays only one of many Barbies in this movie and the gender identity is not much of a theme here, one should be forgiven for asking whether the obsession with this subject is not rather single-sided? And if girlfriends around the world have understood The Fight Club for years, then men should also be able to understand Barbie.
If Oppenheimer is your blockbuster this year, this movie is for you
Barbenheimer is a marketing phenomenon never before seen. Christopher Nolan’s 3-hour Imax epic, Oppenheimer about the father of the nuclear bomb had the same release date as Barbie. The internet quickly caught on to point out the humour in the differences between these two blockbusters. Hence, the birth of the Barbenheimer meme. And it was great to witness how this was not turned into Barbie vs. Oppenheimer, but instead gave rise to the question: Which movie shall I watch first? What may not have been on the radar of Christopher Nolan fans is that Greta Gerwig need not hide behind the great master when it comes to the art of making movies. The production design of Barbie Land is breath-taking, beautiful, and unique. Cross-references to the great classics in movie history can be found left, right, and centre. The obvious homage to Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey in the opening sequence made the hearts of movie lovers beat faster. Here, it is a pink brick road rather than the yellow brick road from the Wizard of Oz. And Margot Robbie’s hairstyle more than once references Catherine Deneuve’s hair from the 1964 classic, The Umbrellas of Cherbourg. At this point it shall be pointed out that one could author multiple full-scale doctoral theses about all the subtle nods to the most important oeuvres in movie history.
Conclusion: This movie is for you
And the best thing: Even if you are not a bit interested in any of this and simply want to enjoy an entertaining evening at the cinema, Barbie is the perfect movie for you! A colourful adventure where all the jokes hit home. The movie has earned its most kitsch moments. But what is kitsch if not the quest for fundamental truths in total beauty! Barbie thus becomes an emotional rollercoaster ride through authentic artificiality for everyone willing to step on board. In the end, I am not ashamed to say: This Ken cried!
About the author
Johannes Holzer is a movie buff who works in the marketing department of Spielwarenmesse eG. His broad range of interest covers everything from Hollywood to Indie movies. For two decades, he has been following the trends in the film industry.