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‘Barbie’ Delivers More Lectures Than Laughs

Barbie driving pink car
Image CreditE!News/YouTube

‘Barbie’ is a two-hour grind through a litany of complaints about how the patriarchy is keeping the ladies down.

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Once upon a time in Malibu, there was a magical glimpse into the life of Barbie and her friends. Airing from 2012 to 2015, “Barbie: Life in the Dreamhouse,” offered vignettes of the iconic blond doll and her friends that centered around shopping, lounging by the pool, and pursuing a variety of careers. Self-aware, with the dolls musing about how old Barbie must be or reminding her that she is a veterinarian when she called for one, you’d be hard-pressed to find a father who objected to watching it with his daughters. It was quality entertainment.

Thus when “Barbie” was announced, some of us held our breath, hoping the live-action movie would follow in the show’s footsteps. Early trailers and publicity seemed to confirm it. The marketing blitz that turned it into an opening weekend rival for “Oppenheimer” also hinted at a glorious glimpse into life as one of the most famous dolls in history, replete with jabs about Barbie’s impossible career arc and upstanding Dorian Gray existence.

Alas, it was not to be. Kyle Smith, writing in The Wall Street Journal, is correct in his observation that “as bubbly as the film appears, its script is like a grumpier-than-average women’s studies seminar.” Over at National Review, Armond White observes that the movie is “frantic, uncheerful, and graceless,” and that “Barbie symbolizes a culture that devalues childhood and goodness.” He, too, is correct, as is YouTube curmudgeon the Critical Drinker, whose review, titled “Barbie: The Greatest Lie Ever Told,” begins with, “What none of us expected was 114 minutes of spiteful, bitter, mean-spirited, borderline unhinged hatred of men and everything even vaguely associated with them.”

“Barbie,” the movie starring Margot Robbie and Ryan Gosling, is all of those things, but it’s also more. Perhaps, though, it is actually less, as the doll really doesn’t have much to do with it, outside of serving as a vehicle for screenwriters Greta Gerwig and Noah Baumbach to grind their gears, of which they have plenty. Sitting through the movie is like being trapped in conversation with an angry ideologue, but one whose ideas aren’t insane enough to be entertaining.  

For while “Life in the Dreamhouse” was a lighthearted look at the classic toy and all the contradictions contained therein, “Barbie” is a lecture that self-identifies as a movie. It’s a dour examination of a society that exists only in the minds of Gerwig and Baumbach. It’s a two-hour grind through a litany of complaints about how the patriarchy is keeping the ladies down, though the fact that it fails to keep Gerwig down should have offered her an opportunity for a little self-reflection instead.

This is, of course, fine. Movies don’t have to be entertaining, though it certainly helps when they are, but the fact that the rich source material that is the Barbie universe was turned into this movie is a letdown. We could have had a fun film, one that made the audience, young and old, laugh with jokes about knees and fingers that don’t bend. We could have had a delightful romp about the adventures of a doll that has inspired imagination for decades. In short, we could have had the movie that was marketed to us.

We don’t get to have that. Instead, we’re treated to a series of angry talking points in which the only fanciful flights of imagination are ones that veer off into a nightmarish world in which women are objectified, vilified, and subjugated in ways that would make a literal caveman blush. A dream it is not.

Despite all this, though, I’m not mad about “Barbie.” But as a father who looked forward to taking his daughters to this movie for over a year, I am disappointed.


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