I was one of those little girls who was given a baby doll to mother. Barbie dolls did not exist until 1959. By that point, I was entering high school and done with dolls. I do remember when my friend Beverley’s little sister, Bonnie, got her first Barbie doll. We older girls looked at it as though it were from another world. This was nothing like the Kewpie doll or the dolls with big heads that we were to mock feed with bottles. This creature was something else entirely.
I entered college in 1963 and graduated with a degree in English. When I wanted to go to law school, my father, born in 1902, said, “A woman shouldn’t take a man’s job.” While he and my mother thought it was fine if I wanted to go on to graduate school in English, law school was not something they would help me finance.
The only “acceptable” careers for a woman as I headed off to college in the early sixties were secretary, nurse, or teacher. A fourth possibility might be the less professional hairdresser. Yes, Ruth Bader Ginsberg made it through law school, but she had an extremely supportive husband who assisted her. I did not have any support from my family for a career other than the “acceptable” ones mentioned above.
As a result, I went on to get my Master’s (plus 30 hours) in English with a Journalism minor. I taught for 18 years before I took my own money and invested it in an entrepreneurial idea that bore fruit. I ended up establishing and being CEO of two businesses and left the low-paying teaching job I had labored at from 1969 until 1985 behind for good.
I talked my husband into accompanying me to see “Barbie” because another critic (male) whose opinion I respect sang its praises. Since one (of only two) theaters in our Quad City area just closed (and the weather was beastly hot) we ended up having to sit in the very first row of the theater at 5:05 p.m. on a Thursday. We couldn’t sit together—which is just as well, since my spouse went in with a negative attitude and emerged with an even more negative attitude. His remarks after the film ended were all uber critical. (Gee…maybe I should call him “the most negative person I’ve ever met” which he once said to me, for a bit of inaccurate hyperbole). I think he is just the wrong gender to really be able to relate to most of what the film was articulating about the way women have traditionally been treated in our society. You gotta’ be female to really get that. He’s not.
I loved the “Barbie” movie. I hadn’t expected to, but it entertained while really flinging some zingers at society’s treatment of women versus men, historically.
The cast is great. The fashions and music are to-die-for. The script is the best. Only those who, in the face of ample proof, deny that “it’s a man’s world,” or are arch-Conservatives, would hate this clever, well-written movie.
Of course, when a liberal Democrat marries into a Republican conclave, there will be disagreements. This is one of them. Trust me: I’m right on this one. And the Never Trump one, too.
One sure-fire Oscar nominee is probably Billie Eilish’s theme song, with others to come.
I will be recapping a few of the script’s better lines. Be warned.
What is the plot?
Barbie and Ken journey from Barbieland to “the real world” and—much like films as far back as “Time After Time”—they are strangers in a strange land, trying to adjust to the realities of what is referred to as “the patriarchy.” (My spouse apparently does not believe in the patriarchy, but that’s on him. It exists and has existed since time immemorial.)
Barbie is being visited by thoughts that are totally UN-Barbie-like—thoughts about death and dying, for one thing. Baumbach’s last film “White Noise” (Adam Driver) also involved thoughts about death and dying. Baumbach, who co-wrote the script with his life partner Greta Gerwig (who directed) mines his own life for themes. Many deal with dysfunctional family relationships or divorce, like “Marriage Story” and death is a concern, as it is in the works of Woody Allen.
But “Barbie” is Greta Gerwig’s triumph, because, after all, she’s female. She just had the biggest opening week for a movie directed by a woman in history, a $162 million debut, the biggest of the year.
Noah Baumbach may be more aware of “the patriarchy” (or what we used to call “the Good Old Boys’ network) than most men, but Greta has nailed all the things that women of MY generation were expected to cope with to be a desirable, acceptable female in “the real world.” As one prescient line from the outstanding script says, “Everything exists to expand and elevate the presence of men.”
What things, you might ask disingenuously?
Let me share some of the lines from this film that “nail” the idea that women have, traditionally, been put down and kept down and had to behave in certain ways in order to get by in our society.
“A woman must appear helpless and confused.” Add to that the thought, spoken by Barbie, “I like not having to make any decisions.”
“ Power (on the part of a female) must be masked under a giggle.”
“A woman must pretend to be terrible at every single sport ever.”
“Either you’re brainwashed or you’re weird and ugly. There is no in-between.”
“Every night is boys’ night.”
“I’m not good enough for anything.”
Some of these “truths” are now changing, and all are being challenged, but, remember: this is the world I grew up in, not the one my granddaughters are growing up in.
There is a terrific monologue (by America Ferrera) that articulated the “required” things for females in America. That one scene, alone, is worth the price of admission, describing, as it does, the tightrope that women in America have to navigate.
“Everything is your fault.”
“We must tie ourselves into knots so that people will like us.”
“We must reject men’s advances without rejecting them.
“It’s best if you don’t think about it too much. Don’t overthink it.”
Barbies, says the film, represent sexualized capitalism. The rise of the Barbie doll “set the feminist movement back fifty years.” The term “Fascist” is thrown around, even though Barbie immediately says that she doesn’t have anything to do with railways or the flow of commerce.
At one point, a male character says, “I’m a man with no power. Does that make me a woman?” (I laughed out loud at that one.)
Greta Gerwig is one clever writer. If you didn’t laugh at “Lady Bird” you probably need a humor transplant. “Lady Bird” also had the ability to encapsulate the mother/daughter relationship so perfectly; mothers and daughters everywhere could relate.
With “Barbie,” females of any age will be able to relate. Men? Not so much.
Another Big Plus for me—a child of the sixties—were the outfits that the gorgeous Margot Robbie and the handsome Ryan Gosling wear. I loved the blue dress with the white collar and cuffs, although it was very short—even shorter than the mini skirt years I wore in my prime. Loved, loved, loved the green and pink outfit with the matching hat. Ken’s outfits didn’t make him appear as attractive as Barbie’s, although, as the script says, “He’s one nice-looking piece of plastic.”
When you’ve got Ryan Gosling willing to take a career risk like this, you’re on a roll. There was a really interesting interview with Greta Gerwig in the “New York Times” where she described how she called Gosling up and convinced him to be her Ken. Will Ferrell portrays the CEO of Mattel and his encounters with the discontinued Pregnant Midge Barbie and the Proust Barbie ( Rhea Perlman plays the part of the creator of Barbie, Ruth Handler.
Lots of good music, but listen for the closing theme by Billie Eilish, “What Was I Made For?” Potential Oscar nominee.
Terrific! And another move forward for the talented Greta Gerwig after her debut with “Lady Bird.” She and partner Noah Baumbach have made an important movie. I would not have dreamed that this movie would deliver as it has, but the thoughts are true and the truth will out.
A line that resonated with me—a former proud wearer of an ERA bracelet (look it up)—was this one:
“We mothers stand still so we can see how far our daughters have come.” In the wake of the Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision overturning Roe v. Wade, this certainly rang true. And, as the script puts it, “anxiety, panic attacks, and OCD sold separately.”