Greta Gerwig's 'Barbie' is Sublime

Greta Gerwig's 'Barbie' is Sublime

Douse me in pink and dip me in sugar because Greta Gerwig’s Barbie is now my entire personality. 

On the surface, Barbie is dazzling. It’s abundant with bright colors, flashy musical numbers, and corny dialogue (“Yay, space!”) that would arguably be saccharine if not for the immaculate delivery of Margot Robbie and Ryan Gosling. The Ken to Robbie’s Barbie, Gosling gives the best comedic performance of his career, and it goes without saying that Robbie was the perfect — and only — choice for the role of Barbie herself. 

barbie and ken traveling to the real world on a tandem bike

Surreal is an understatement when describing Gerwig’s Barbieland. In the tight-knit neighborhood of Barbie dream houses and plastic beaches, all the girls are Barbie and all the boys are Ken (with a few exceptions). We enter a world of massive soundstages with painted backdrops reminiscent of old Hollywood movies, something Gerwig calls “authentically artificial.”

But the themes of Barbie aren’t subtle either, flush with jabs at the patriarchy and an on-the-nose yet profound monologue about the expectations of women from America Ferrera. Still, Gerwig’s self-aware approach to bashing you over the head with an overabundance of female empowerment is surprisingly philosophical

Stereotypical Barbie’s plastic exterior turns out to be extraordinarily human, turning a doll with unrealistic beauty standards that young girls could never relate to into someone every single woman can relate to. Her perfect skin turns to cellulite, her forever-heeled feet turn flat, and she interrupts a choreographed dance number by asking, “Do you guys ever think about dying?”

There was something cathartic about watching my perfect childhood doll become a woman just like me, haunted by negative thoughts and feelings of insecurity. But with that comes a sense of eerie discomfort when Barbie’s feelings are paired with her experience in the real world, plagued by hegemonic masculinity. 

Meanwhile, Barbie’s dream world is exactly that: a dream. But is it okay to dream of a perfect world? Or is Barbieland a male fantasy, as suggested by the all-male board of directors at Mattel led by an aloof CEO (Will Farrell), disguised as a manufactured dream for young girls?

barbie in her dream house looking through a mirror

I’m honestly surprised with what Mattel let Gerwig get away with, considering the company is the butt of many jokes like the embarrassing ensemble of discontinued dolls (my favorite played by Michael Cera) and the irony of their all-male board in a bright pink room. 

While all of this probably sounds heavier than the cute and fun Barbie movie we were expecting, Gerwig’s hand in crafting the film is exceptionally light. Barbie’s realization of the “real world” is a little depressing to say the least, but the film maintains its bright and upbeat rhythm from beginning to end. Whether it was from feeling seen as a woman or simply from Ryan Gosling singing “Push” by Matchbox Twenty on the beach in a chorus of Kens, I found myself smiling more often than not. 

At the end of the pink brick road, Barbie is a coming-of-age story about confronting the tribulations of womanhood, a manifesto for gender equality, and an indulgent joy ride of pastels, comedy, and the preservation of dreams.


'Barbie' hits theaters July 21st.