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The Courier

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The Icon is More Human than Plastic in “Barbie”

“Barbie” goes beyond expectations in Greta Gerwig’s fantasy comedy.

Barbie (Margot Robbie) is having real-world problems. Thoughts of death, and then a heap of bodily symptoms, including flat feet, bad breath, and worst of all, cellulite. To remedy this, she seeks the help of an outcast, Weird Barbie, who tells her to leave Barbie Land and find the girl playing with her in the real world. 

On Barbie’s journey to do so, she reluctantly agrees to bring Beach Ken (Ryan Gosling) with, and the two arrive in Venice Beach. Believing she found the girl responsible for her ailments, Barbie confronts her, Sasha, only to find out that Sasha’s mother, Gloria, is the one playing with the Barbie doll. Receiving word that Barbie’s loose in the real world, the Mattel CEO and his exec cronies attempt to recapture her. 

I loved “Barbie” for how the characters, namely Barbie and Ken, were written, as well as the poignant social commentary and juxtaposition with the real world. 

Barbie is like a child: excitable and naive. I loved this choice. 

For one, both she and Ken are fish-out-of-water. Suspicious of how the real world works, Ken gets hooked on the idea of patriotism, patriarchy and horses (the latter of the three being the most important to Ken).

Another is that she begins this way. It’s not that Barbie remains child-like, but that she is enthusiastic until met with the real world, either in the form of Sasha berating her about how she’s inflated beauty standards or Ken’s return to Barbie Land. 

I enjoyed the social commentary of Ken becoming obsessed with the patriarchy and anything tangential to it, as well as on-the-nose jokes. Gosling’s Ken threatens Simu Liu’s Ken to a “beach off” in which they must “beach” each other “off” for dominance.

The commentary felt fresh. One moment being Ken’s insistence that the patriarchy, as well as horses, beer and furs, should become the new norm touched on the susceptibility of men to figures such as Andrew Tate. Another is Sasha’s immediate revulsion at the sight of Barbie as a part of a younger generation that’s more aware of social influences and how women are viewed in society.

More to the second point, “Barbie” remarks on negative, societal views of women. Some of these remarks are more or less poignant than others, such as a short-lived, yet memorable, instance where Barbie, upon arriving in Venice Beach, is immediately groped by a male passerby. Shortly after, Ken is complemented by a group of guys in passing without, as he notes, “Feeling objectified.”

More poignant is a speech Gloria gives to a group of Barbies refuged in the midst of a panic in Barbie Land. She brings the dichotomy of Barbie Land, a seemingly perfect place of equality and happiness, and the real world. 

Gloria points out the contradiction in what the real world expects of women. That they must be confident but not bossy. They must be smart but never condescending. They can be boyish but not mannish. 

To me, Barbie Land represents the perfectionism of the real world, but that doesn’t mean neither the Barbies nor the Kens are ever aware of it.

Beach Ken has his own arc too. He envies the Barbies and their privileges the most of all the Kens. For as long as Barbie Land has existed, the Barbies have held every important position, whereas their respective Kens have had secondary roles: a reversal of the roles we see in the real world. 

Such division between the two groups, and Gosling’s Ken’s desperation to get the attention of Barbie, brings to mind a struggle that myself, as well as everybody else, has been through. Of envying the glamor and appearance of other people’s lives and, in seeking to live such a life, we realize there’s little to no satisfaction in it. 

Another way of seeing it is that it feels impossible to celebrate the lives of others without seeing ourselves as failures by extension. By covering both of these perspectives, of Barbie and of Ken, “Barbie” surprised and impressed me. 

“Barbie” sees its characters as people, having inherent value in their own right, and likens it to the phrase “I’m enough.” It began with Barbie developing cellulite, and by becoming self-conscious in the real world, Barbie and Ken are more human than they were before leaving their home. After going to Sasha’s school in search of the source of her problems, Barbie’s torn down by Sasha and cries for the first time.

But, just as the real world has soured Barbie and her worldview, Barbie’s brightness seeps into the real world. She inspires Gloria to follow her back to Barbie Land and break from her mundane life. In a different, earlier scene, the same happens on a bus stop bench outside Sasha’s school, after Barbie found her.

While sitting there, wiping away her tears, Barbie turns her gaze to see an old woman sitting next to her. The woman, a world apart from Barbie, is basking in the sunlight and meets Barbie’s eyes and, locking eyes with her, smiles. Barbie smiles and says, “You’re beautiful.”

“Barbie” is playing in theaters near you.

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Noah McBrien, Staff Writer

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