Natasha Walter, the author of “Living Dolls: The Return of Sexism,” recently stated that despite women being told they can achieve anything, they often find themselves pressured to conform to unrealistic standards, resembling dolls—always perfect and poised to fulfill expectations imposed upon them.
Barbie, the famous doll brought to us by Mattel, now represents a broader spectrum of possibilities. While there is a Barbie who can assume various roles, it raises the question of whether we should view women through the lens of dolls or dolls through the lens of women. The discussion extends beyond the traditional notions of feminism.
Greta Gerwig’s thought-provoking film, co-written with Noah Baumbach, presents a reimagined Barbie for a time where inquisitiveness holds more value than merely seeking answers. The movie challenges the constraints of limited choices, where options are no longer confined to stilettos or Birkenstocks, Ken or predefined roles; instead, it delves into the complexities of patriarchy and gender dynamics.
The film centers on the journey of the “stereotypical Barbie” – slender, tall, and beautiful – as she embarks on a quest of self-discovery. It focuses on her character, leaving out the pregnant, clown-dressed, President, Doctor, or space-themed versions. Greta Gerwig’s direction delves inward, exploring the doll’s many reinventions to maintain relevance, ultimately opting for the most widely accepted Barbie portrayal.
The film’s most impactful moments occur when Robbie’s Barbie ventures into the “real world” beyond Barbie Land. To her dismay, she finds changes in her physical appearance, like cellulite on her thighs and flattened feet, no longer arched like her signature heels. Troubled by these discoveries, she even contemplates mortality, equating it with cellulite in a poignant scene.
In this unfamiliar realm, Robbie’s Barbie must uncover the source of her doll version owner’s troubles, linked through a mysterious “space continuum.” Gosling’s Ken joins her on this journey, and Barbie quickly learns that, contrary to what they were led to believe in Barbie Land, the creation of dolls resembling powerful individuals who rule the world does not effect change in the real world.
Unlike Barbie Land, where Kens are subordinate to Barbies, the real world operates differently, and men hold positions of power. Gosling’s Ken enthusiastically embraces this reality, while Barbie is constantly shocked by the revelations she encounters.
As the film gains momentum, exploring how Barbie and Ken would navigate the real world, it abruptly shifts back to Barbie Land with the introduction of the real-world mother-daughter duo who own Robbie’s Barbie doll.
Despite delving into questions about Barbie’s impact on real women, the film feels influenced by Mattel, with uncomfortable issues being trivialized as feeble jokes or relegated to the background.
Greta Gerwig’s direction, drawing from her acclaimed works like Lady Bird and Little Women, takes subtle jabs at gender conflicts, and she maintains an awareness of Barbie’s essence as a revered beauty. Many love Barbie, as emphasized by Helen Mirren’s narration, where she points out that casting Robbie was to ensure Barbie would never be considered ugly, but this statement comes across as oversimplified and somewhat dismissive.
The collaboration between Robbie as producer and Gerwig as director proves ambitious, and the project mostly succeeds, straddling the line between two potential outcomes. The irony lies in the fact that real-life Robbie perfectly embodies the tone Barbie could have adopted.
Margot Robbie’s mesmerizing presence exudes beauty while also capturing hearts with her depth of character. She transcends mere physical appearances, allowing viewers to relate to her beyond the stereotypical features of blond hair, curves, and figure.
Ryan Gosling’s role as the superfluous Ken is smaller, yet his dilemma is portrayed compellingly. Like Robbie, Gosling’s latent charm shines through, complementing his co-star and gracefully supporting her character.
Gerwig’s choice to cast these two charismatic actors as leads is astute. However, the film falls short in matching the charisma of Robbie and Gosling with their respective Barbie and Ken characters, be it in the plastic world or the fantastical realm.