Editor’s Note: This piece was written during the 2023 WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes. Without the labour of the actors and writers involved in the project(s) mentioned here, Pages and Pictures would not exist. Pages and Pictures stands firmly behind WGA and SAG-AFTRA members as they fight for fair labour conditions.
Barbie is a gorgeous and endearing examination of the female experience. The story captures the massive impact that this toy has had in the lives of girls everywhere, across the generations. It also is an honest reflection of the heartbreaking nature of living in a patriarchal society. At its core, this movie is about the power that women have always had and why it is imperative to strive for a better world, even in the face of overwhelming obstacles.
It makes sense to start with the force of nature that is Margot Robbie. Rarely has an actor ever so clearly understood the assignment and embodied the essence of their character. As Stereotypical Barbie, this character could so easily have leaned into the worst visions of this toy. Happily, with Gerwig’s vision, this character is instead the embodiment of the boundless creativity this toy continues to represent. Her optimism is reflective of the best hopes of girls across the generations.
Relatedly, Robbie deftly navigates being an individual character while also representing some major concepts. This never comes across as preachy or overdone. Rather, this assumption of endless possibilities reads as incredibly authentic. Without the lens of patriarchy, it’s clear that feminism flourishes within this universe. This radical imagining of an equitable world comes across as endearing as it does jarring in the best possible way.
Barbie also deftly navigates the realities and practicalities of the real world in contrast with the Barbies’ home. There’s a visceral sadness that comes with seeing the real world through Barbie’s eyes. This is such an effective way to show how truly damaged our world is, and how humans don’t need to keep choosing to live this way. Our sadness is Barbie’s sadness, as she just wants what’s best for women and girls.
Relatedly, there is something so bittersweet about Barbieland in all its glory. Watching the Barbies from all backgrounds work together to use their strengths for the betterment of society is frankly aspirational. This beautiful fictional world epitomizes feminist ideals in that this society is structured around the empowerment of all genders. It’s also so heartbreaking to see how clearly patriarchy damages even a fun toy-based world in a matter of moments. This destruction comes from a place of deep insecurity and a desire for control.
America Ferrara is also the MVP of this story. Her character symbolizes the journey that women and girls can relate to on such a deep level. From that unrestrained optimism to a life engulfed by the daily grind of patriarchy, this is an all-too-real portrait of a journey too many of us take. The fact that she is able to give voice to this reality elevates her character to a new level. Her monologue isn’t simply a feminist manifesto. Rather, it is a call to action for all to recognize the power that has always existed in all of us. She is the perfect leader to bring this self-realization that the Barbies need to fruition.
By contrast, the Kens are perhaps surprisingly effective villains. Ryan Gosling is nothing less than magnetic as he descends into the worst depths of the patriarchy. It’s alarming how quickly Ken embraces patriarchy in the name of centring himself in Barbie’s existence. While this character may not deserve the redemption he’s given, he’s a picture-perfect illustration of this uncomfortable reality. The fact that Barbie is able to stand firm in order to restore Barbieland in the face of Ken’s shenanigans just makes her that much stronger of a force.
Finally, if there’s another character who deserves a tonne of love, it’s Michael Cera’s Allan. He is proof that even within patriarchy, men retain their collective agency. Watching him remain true to the essence of Barbieland and the vision of this utopia makes him all the more endearing. He is a sweet example of how male energy can be channelled for the betterment of everyone of all genders. In many ways, Allan is the underrated hero that brings the entire story together.
Barbie comes together in a beautiful pink package that comes with a heartfelt message for everyone. The story is a delightful one that has a level of gravitas that is breathtaking at times. This world is absolutely worth exploring further. Barbie as an entity will always exist in various forms to people everywhere. However, this story is the distillation of what makes Barbie such a unique driver for empowerment. It’s easy to feel just a little bit more optimistic after coming out of this powerful tribute to women and girls everywhere.
Barbie is in theatres now.