Not the least weird thing about the ‘Barbie’ film is the casting. Margot Robbie is just not…Barbie enough…but she does invest the role with a certain joie de vivre and that’s something. Our Barbie (‘Stereotypical Barbie’) lives in a lovely dollhouse world where all the Barbies party and sort of wander about doing physics and stuff. The Kens don’t do anything and are deeply stupid. (Our Barbie’s Ken’s job is not surf lifesaver, as so many people mistakenly believe. His job is ‘beach’). Fittingly, Ken is played by Ryan Gosling, but it might as well have been Ryan Reynolds or any one of the interchangeable Hollywood Ryans. As in most fairytales, our heroine has to leave her custom-made paradise to go find herself – in this case, the plastic Barbie counterpart who is being played with ‘in the wrong way’ in the ‘real world’. When a character commences an earnest explanation of how this existential difficulty can work, he’s quickly stopped because no-one cares. To undertake her journey, Barbie has to visit Weird Barbie (played by Kate McKinnon as Zoey Deschanel in a Phyllis Diller wig and unfortunately not really weird or interesting at all). Barbie has to choose between shoes (one will take her to enlightenment and one will keep her in ignorance) and arrives with Ken in the real world where even the beachgoers of Miami laugh at them. Barbie is disappointed to find that the perfect female empowerment promised by Barbies has not come about. But not before she sees a billboard picturing Miss Universe contestants and exclaims, “The Supreme Court!” Ken on the other hand is delighted to learn about the patriarchy and he brings it back to Barbieland along with some ideas about the importance of horses in men’s lives. So far, so entertaining. Unfortunately, for this viewer at least, at this point the film collapses into ugly boy stuff as the Kens turn the pink into brown, ride horses, chase cars and fight. Isn’t this a chick flick?
The nod to 2001 (in which several celluloid baby dolls get their heads smashed in by enraged small girls) is clever. Rhea Perlman appears as a character straight out of “The Matrix” or “The Simpsons”. However, the main reference seems to be “Elf”, in which Buddy has to go on the same sort of journey. Indeed, Will Ferrell is in Barbie, as the CEO of Mattel, but he has little to do. He does have one good line, “what do we think when I say ‘sparkles’? That’s right, female empowerment”. Of course, there is an impassioned speech about how hard women have it. It is a good speech, no question, and the otherwise passive audience did chortle with agreement. But it was rather trite and is given by a Mattel employee and Barbie-butcher Gloria (America Ferrera) who seems to be in the movie to speechify only, while her bratty, sullen, know-all tween daughter Sasha (played by Ariana Greenblatt) doesn’t need to be in it at all. The feminist point could have been made in a less expository manner. For example, one of the strongest moments in the story occurs when Barbie and Ken are stared at by men in the real world. Ken remarks that all the staring is non-threatening, but Barbie says that she can “feel the violence”. She also remarks that she would never wear high heels if her feet were flat (human). Ironically, back in Barbieland, the Barbies use their feminine wiles to trick the Kens. Ultimately everyone agrees to give equal rights to everyone.
The script seems underdone, lacking the interest and depth it could have had. It tries to tick all the boxes – teen girls, disgruntled women, people who want to see Ryan Whatsits dance, Will Ferrell fans, Margot Robbie apologists, etc. The product placement is tedious for those who don’t know their Mattel world. Worst of all, much of ‘Barbie’ looks ugly. Barbie’s clothes are disappointing. Her hair? All over the place. I wanted to comb it.