First off – THERE WILL BE SPOILERS IN THIS BARBIE MOVIE REVIEW!!! If you haven’t see the Barbie movie yet, please stop reading my Barbie movie review and find something else to do. You will enjoy Barbie so much more if you go in to the movie cold, or at least as cold can be. Don’t read reviews, don’t watch stupid TikTok rants about it. Just grab your bestie and enjoy this delightful movie.
Secondly, I played with Barbies as a young girl. I had the camper, the pool party and the Barbie Townhouse (with elevator). I had Malibu Barbie, Malibu Ken, Mod Hair Ken, Skipper, I had the big Barbie head, I had two babies, but I think they were part of the Sunshine family, and a handful of other Barbies. Most of them had their feet eaten by my dog, Daisy. I had Barbie clothes and I learned how to sew Barbie clothes on the sewing machine my grandma gave me for my 10th birthday. I played with Barbies long after I should have stopped playing with Barbies. In other words, I am an expert on all things Barbie.
I loved everything about this movie. From the opening titles with the Barbie font to the acknowledgment of the very specific smell Barbie and her accessories had. It’s a wonderful movie that couldn’t have come at a better time.
My Barbie Movie Review
The plot of Barbie is what you’d expect if you didn’t know anything about the movie. Barbie has to travel from Barbieland to the Real World to fix a tear in the space time continuum and to prevent cellulite caused in part by Barbie’s existential crisis.
It’s not as heavy as it sounds, or maybe it is?
Barbie, and Ken travel to Century City so Barbie can find the girl who is playing with her. While there Ken discovers patriarchy and Barbie meets with the CEO and other board members at Mattel. Hijinks ensue, there’s a big car chase, a pivotal moment or two, some dancing, and everyone lives happily ever after.
It’s wonderful. Go see it.
SPOILERS – Don’t continue on unless you’ve seen the movie. And let’s face it, odds are good you have since the movie cracked the $billion mark last week and the movie has only been out for a few weeks.
I’ve seen it three times already.
And I’m not ashamed.
What Does the Barbie Movie Mean?
So everyone has been picking apart this movie and most are getting it wrong. Helen Mirren, the narrator of the movie, states exactly what the movie is at the beginning – “Barbie can be anything.”
A lot has been said about the Barbie movie, a lot of people have weighed in on the movie without seeing it. I can’t tell you how many people I’ve talked to or whose posts I’ve read who said they refused to go because the movie is too woke, too right wing, too left wing, too transphobic, too heteronormative, too LGBTQIA+.
So Barbie is a Rorschach test where you’re likely to project your biases and likes, and dislikes on to it. Like the real Barbie who can be anything – a pilot, a doctor, a mother, an artist, a construction worker, a president (one day), a CEO, etc, the Barbie movie can be anything. If you think it means this, it does – to you. It might mean something different to someone else. I don’t think we’re all going to agree what the movie means, and that’s ok.
Is the Barbie Movie Misandristic?
Bill Maher said the movie was “preachy” and “man-hating”, that it is a Zombie Lie – something that never was true, but certain people refuse to stop saying it; OR something that USED to be true but no longer is, but certain people pretend it’s still true. I don’t know if he made that up, but I like it.
OK, “Barbie”: I was hoping it wouldn’t be preachy, man-hating, and a #ZombieLie – alas, it was all three. What is a Zombie Lie? Something that never was true, but certain people refuse to stop saying it (tax cuts for the rich increase revenues, e.g.); OR something that USED to be…
— Bill Maher (@billmaher) August 7, 2023
The Barbie movie is not a Zombie Lie.
I have a friend – I’ll call him Mitch – who wrote a wonderful review of the Barbie movie, and I recommend reading it because he gets it – most of it anyway. His review is not currently public, though he’s teasing it on his blog for tomorrow. Here’s a little of what he wrote regarding Ken and men on Facebook:
“Men / Ken”.
As far as how it treats men – via “Ken”, singular and plural? Yep. Men are vapid, ineffectual, impotent, pointless.And *that’s the point*.  And it may be even more brilliant than the critique of third wave feminism. Let’s step outside the movie and look at sociology, 2020s style.What does every sociologist, especially on the right, identify as the problem with young men today? Lack of purpose, goals, meaning?And that those young men fill in the gap left by the lack of *purpose* to masculinity by asserting it via mindless, deflecting hedonism and pointless violence? Because society sees them as being about as useful to the world as a bike is to a trout?
Again – no spoilers. But *that* – flopping around without purpose, and then wondering what that purpose *should* be – and its parallels with young mens struggles today, is the point of Ken (singular and plural). When you watch the movie, and see the arc of “Ken’s” behavior throughout, keep that in mind.
Two men reviewing a movie about a doll and they have completely different views on how the men in the movie are treated, and why they are treated that way. Go figure.
Ken is vapid in the Barbie movie. Especially the Ken played by Ryan Gosling, but all the Kens are vapid, banal, pointless. Just like Ken was when I played with Barbies.
I had a Mod Haired Ken and Malibu Ken. Mod Haired Ken is no where to be found in the Barbie movie, and I don’t know why. I’ve looked for him as a background character, but haven’t found him yet. If you’ve spotted him please let me know where in the movie he was.
Ryan Gosling plays Malibu Ken and he is brilliant in it. Oscar worthy. In fact this movie should take all the Oscars – set design, costumes, music, choreography, best actress, best actor (not sure we still have those categories, but we need them for this movie), and best director. Anyway, back to Ken/Ryan Gosling. He’s brilliant, he is Ken. It’s worth seeing the movie just for Ken, and his arc. That’s hardly misandristic.
Is The Barbie Movie Woke?
Not at all. The Barbie movie isn’t even remotely woke. It’s moderate. It’s brilliant in its moderation, but that could be because moderate doesn’t really exist anymore. Yes, there was diversity – because Barbie was already diverse. There’s been a lot of complaints that the movie is too heteronormative. There is a Barbie played by a trans actor, but the Barbie is not trans, there is no talk of being trans, no trans agenda or activism – it’s quite refreshing.
Is The Barbie Movie Misogynistic?
Of course not. In Barbie Land women can do anything. Woman run Barbie Land, Ken is just an accessory.
But wait, didn’t I just say the movie wasn’t misandristic? I did, and it’s not, and I’ll tell you why. Yes, Ken is portrayed as pointless, vapid, superfluous, one dimensional. And yes, when Ken returns from the real world he is full of patriarchy and hopes to spread it. In fact he spreads it while Barbie is stuck in the real world so that when she returns all the Barbies are bimbos who hang on every word their Kens utter waiting to “brewski beer” their Kens.
It isn’t until Gloria – played wonderfully by America Ferrera – figures out what’s going on and finds the way to break the spell of patriarchy. Her scene stealing speech on the difficulty of being (and becoming) a woman is worth the ticket price alone. The Barbies must break the spirit of the Kens in order to take back Barbie Land. It’s silly, childish, funny, and also pissing a lot of people off.
Feminists are in snit because women would never do that, and men are in a snit because they’re sick of being portrayed as being ignorant, egotistical, hormone driven males.
Women do do that, and men can be ignorant, egotistical, and driven by their hormones. It’s not pretty, but it’s not a lie either*.
What Everyone Misses About This Movie
Bill Maher calls the Barbie movie a Zombie Lie because it puts forth lies that everyone believes. He mentions the board of Mattel. When Barbie goes to the real world in the movie she meets with the board of Mattel, all men with Will Ferrel playing the role of CEO. Bill Maher takes issue with this because there are actually 5 women, out of 12, on the board at Mattel.
The reason for this is obvious to me because I played with Barbies every day after school and all summer long when I wasn’t at the pool. The real world in the movie is not the real world.
When Barbie and Ken first enter the real world they are dressed in neon leotards roller blading along the Santa Monica pier. Barbie is immediately cat called, gets her ass slapped, and feels men ogling her. She spots a construction site and suggests to Ken they stop by there and get some of that good female energy since in Barbie Land the Barbies are the contractors and the construction workers and the ones who build the world. She’s horrified to learn that there are no women at the construction site, just men who say horribly sexist things to her and cat call her some more.
Men in the real world don’t act like the men depicted in the real world of the movie.
The real world in the movie is not the real world, it is what a young girl playing with her Barbies believes is the real world. That is why Ken is superfluous.
Ken is Superfluous
Ken is an accessory to Barbie. He is not nearly as exciting to a little girl as a pair of Barbie palazzo pants, or her airplane, or Pool Party. Little girls don’t know what to do with Ken because – they don’t know what to do with men… yet. So Ken gets left in the shoe box with the missing boot, stockings that are just too difficult to put on, and the dishes from the camper. Ken is so non threatening and safe, Barbie has nothing to worry about with Ken. Even when my brother super glued my Barbie in the 69 position to another doll he did so with GI Joe, not Ken.
In the movie Ken asks Barbie if he can stay over night. Barbie says no, she’s having a slumber party, and asks him what he thinks they’d do together.
His response is “I have no idea”.
And this is the beauty of the movie. It’s an homage to that little girl who’s about to embark on womanhood. A little girl who will soon begin puberty and get breasts, her period and all those terrifying things young girls go through to become women – sex, romance, job, love, family, children. Contrary to current opinion, puberty is not optional. We all must go through it no matter how horrible it is. We all must grow up. We all must leave childhood behind.
Barbie has been helping little girls become women for decades. Barbie has allowed us to try things on – clothing, makeup, ideas, beliefs, ideologies and our sexuality. Barbie allows us to try on the real world in as safe a space is possible – our bedrooms.
Barbie is an homage to the (necessary) relationship we (women) have with our mothers. It is about that push/pull. That “I hate you”, and slamming doors, and I will never believe the things you believe – kind of relationship that develops as we go through these very difficult years.
Barbie is an homage – more than anything – to growing up.
I remember the day I stopped playing with Barbies. My best friend came over to play Barbies like every day before that. We started playing and then looked at each other and acknowledged it just wasn’t as much fun as it used to be. We put the Barbies away, walked up to the drug store and bought some Doritos, pop, and the Tiger Beat magazine with Shaun Cassidy on the cover. We sat on my bed, paged through the magazine and talked about kissing Shaun, or the cute new guy in class. Ken was no longer superfluous. And, thanks to Barbie, we might navigate that mine field with a little bit of grace and confidence.
*Not all women, not all men – obviously.