5 Takes on the Barbie Movie

The TEDS (Teen Editorial Staff) Review Barbie

Aamina Mughal, Audrey Gray, Anna Melomed, Daphne Bunker, and Kyle Gerstel.

Reviews edited by Tova Gaster and Alison Smith, TeenTix alumni

Screen Shot 2023 08 28 at 2 39 28 PM

To kick off the 23/24 Newsroom Program, the TEDS each saw the Barbie movie. Check back every month to see art criticism for arts events they select and edit reviews of beginning in September!

TAKE 1: Written by Anna Melomed, Edited by Tova Gaster, TED alumna

Barbie was a great in-theater experience and a delightful time.

Before the movie I loved it. Remember the viral pictures of Ken and Barbie in roller skates on the streets of Santa Monica in 2022? The marketing team took care of that, starting the buzz a year in advance where most movies start 2-3 months before premiering. Those months before the movie, Barbie fans (or not) had formed opinions on it. It proved to be so successful that Mattel announced it's releasing another 14 movies about uno, and even a horror movie about an 8 ball. Whether good or bad, the Barbie movie will be something people will remember.

My friends and I decided to go all out. When do you ever get an opportunity to wear a hot pink outfit? Walking into the theater we weren’t the only ones, there was a sea of pink.

As the movie began, Margot Robbie's Barbie embarked on a mission to challenge and change societal norms, aiming to empower women and reshape the perception of Barbie in the real world. Along the way, she encountered both allies and adversaries, navigating the complexities of gender roles, stereotypes, and expectations. Barbie touched on many important real-world problems, using more humor than seriousness to communicate them. It built up these themes and then most of the time finished them off with a joke. Though the movie's overall purpose is for people to have a good time, a bit more seriousness wouldn’t have hurt.

On the technical side, there are so many little delights found throughout the movie. In Barbieland there are no stairs, just slides, so Barbie magically floats down to breakfast every morning. There she is greeted with a toaster shooting out a perfectly cooked waffle right onto her plate. Then she takes a sip of milk, but nothing comes out of the cup, because where would it go? I loved numerous hidden movie references for the film geeks in the audience. take Margot Robbie having to choose between a Birkenstock and a high heel as a Matrix, red pill blue pill, reference. It's obvious that Greta Gerwig was trying to make Barbie not strictly a movie for kids but for all movie lovers.

I really enjoyed how Ken wasn’t the love interest in the movie. Realistically, there are always expectations that the perfect girl falls in love with the perfect boy. Here Barbie doesn’t really care, and Ken doesn't think that he’s Kenough. Not being enough, or should I say Kenough is another big theme throughout the movie. The movie itself is built around the themes of how the stereotypes of Barbie impacted our perception of self. Most people think Barbie represents the negative “perfect” of both women and men. The movie addresses this, and really focuses on erasing that image. Transforming the previously hated barbie into a feminist and independent woman.

The actors are what tie it all together, with the Barbie casting team seeming to have stolen half of Hollywood. It stars large names Margot Robbie, Ryan Gosling, Will Ferrel, and Simu Liu… even filling up smaller roles such as Aaron Dinkins as Connor Swindells and John Cena as Merman Barbie. Without their performances, the movie's golden pieces would sour and become awkward and cringy. Since they hired so many famous actors, their distinct acting styles differed. For example, America Ferrera, who has a background in theater, where it's important to enunciate in a certain way, contrasted with other actors who haven’t had that training or experience.

Overall the movie is a great time. Everyone coming out of it had a little bit of Barbie brilliance in them. It definitely encompasses the spirit of Barbie, colorful, fun, and sparkles nearly perfectly. Though it is an important representation of women's rights, and billion dollar worthy Chevrolet ad, the Barbie movie is a one-time experience. The reason is it lacked plot. The plot it had was executed perfectly, but it was more built around being “perfect”. Even being a detail-oriented movie watcher, the Barbie movie ironically lacked substance and much character development other than the basic “I don't want to be the idea I want to be the one making the ideas.” It reminded me a bit of a utopian Pinocchio going through an existential crisis. But Pinocchio faces a carnivorous whale, whereas Barbie faces a spurned lover who throws a tantrum.

TAKE 2: Written by Audrey Gray, Edited by Tova Gaster, TED alumna

Greta Gerwig’s Barbie tells a unique tale both of film audiences starved for pure fun and of the enduring relevance of the infamous titular doll. The movie’s meteoritic box-office success speaks to months of anticipation and curiosity as to the film’s potential, and Barbie does not fail to deliver. The real strength of Barbie comes from the actors’ excellent performances and Gerwig’s exceptional direction. Through them, the film explores previously untouched corners of the Barbie psyche and the Dreamhouse’s unseen world, with bittersweet real-life impact and allegory.

The unique world of pink Gerwig created for the Barbies of the film was proven witty, wildly silly, and exceptionally quirky. But these quirks don’t come without their downsides for the movie’s direction. Throughout the film, too much slightly stilted dialogue and awkward fourth-wall breaks trying to uphold the initial impression of Barbieland tend to slow the film’s energetic pace.

Where the writing starts to fail in Barbie, however, the cast and aesthetic choices of the film pick up the slack. Barbie is impressive in its visuals, passion, and performances. The personality of the Barbies and Kens of the movie, as well as the other colorful characters that populate the world, ooze out of the screen through campy, over-the-top performances. The colors are plasticky and bright, the sets are perfectly executed and engaging, and every nonsensical outfit change from the characters deepens a world already wacky and entertaining in its excessiveness.

As the true web of themes emerges from Stereotypical Barbie’s (Margot Robbie) journey of self-discovery into the real world, the film takes a strongly realistic and heavy-handed tone, starkly contrasted with Barbieland’s satirical setup at the onset of the film. This whiplash made it difficult to adjust to the more realistic characters of the film, but this discomfort also felt deliberate. Gloria’s (America Ferrera) wry creation of “full-body-cellulite Barbie” and “irrepressible thoughts of death Barbie,” the triggers for Barbie’s existential crisis, are conceptual markers for the film’s hybrid tone—combining at-odd-elements to further explore the intentionally vague nature of the story’s themes.

This thematic obscurity impresses the importance of creating highly personal, almost spiritual, definitions of one’s “self.” Barbie can’t find an absolute answer for who she is by the end of the movie, because all of the traits that defined her identity as Stereotypical Barbie are slowly broken down until she can no longer believe such a label truly describes her internal self in any way—it’s up to her to create a new vision of “self” which may be impossible for anybody but her to understand, but will lead her towards an authentic expression of who she really is.

But perhaps the most intriguing thing about Barbie was how it also managed to employ its flaws and imperfections. In the spirit of the film’s messy women, who discover the means to break out of their perfect plastic bodies and life-sized cardboard boxes to live more genuinely, the cryptic vagueness of both Ken (Ryan Gosling) and Barbie’s emotional climaxes are filled by the film’s self-aware understanding of the unspoken complexities and vague multitudes contained within its characters, world, and themes. The movie repeats campy mantras, that Ken is just Ken, but Ken is also more than Ken, and Barbie goes beyond the label of “Barbie,” to free itself from the audience’s expectation of a concrete solution. The socialized identities of men and women are hardly concrete in the real world, and the film reaches its conclusion by leaving Barbieland in the same in-between point where the real world constantly rests.

The film paints and reflects a world in which Barbie is every woman, and every woman is Barbie—the dolls and ideas that shape childhoods and self-perceptions in ways that are different for each. Barbie is a brand, but Barbie is also the soul of each girl who plays with her. Barbie is an embodiment of every conflicting message and expectation for girls, and also the weapon with which to transcend them and find a stronger individual sense of self. Gerwig’s take on the world of dolls attacks the idea of girlhood’s voyeuristic, hyper-socialized relationship to itself in a neat, satisfying package of a film that is quirky, unforgettably enjoyable, and thought-provoking.

Not until I shuffled out of the theater did I realize that we weren’t really meant to understand Barbie herself, but perhaps gain insight into the countless plastic constructs that surround us and own us in the real world. Is it the concept or execution of Barbie that deserves credit for the impact and success of the film, I couldn’t say—but either way, it is a genuine treat for our eyes and our humanity.

Simu Liu in Barbie (2023)
Simu Liu in Barbie (2023) Photo by Courtesy Warner Bros. Pictures/Courtesy Warner Bros. Pictures - © 2022 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. All Rights Reserved.

TAKE 3: Written by Kyle Gerstel, Edited by Alison Smith, Newsroom alumna

Exploding with Ideas (and Pink)

Barbie is a gorgeous burst of creative energy, equally playful and thoughtful. After first watching the trailer, I was blown away by its freshness and thought it was going to change my life. It didn’t, but it is certainly still worthy of acclaim.

The premise is wildly original and sounds like a Reddit fan theory, which is what makes it so delightful: Take arguably the most famous doll in the world and explore why it’s both appreciated and criticized using history, cheeky musical numbers, and distinctly current humor. These layered elements make the film more engaging and nuanced, but they eliminate a sense of immersion in the world of the story and thus the inner lives of the primary characters.

Upon my first viewing, I appreciated the film’s subversive structure, but I thought the execution wasn’t as funny, thoughtful, or emotionally compelling as I had hoped. I felt grounded in my seat and in 2023, constantly reflecting upon the loud yet messy messaging (“Ken is me”) rather than enjoying the film for the ride with thoughts sparked along the way. During my second watch, I thoroughly enjoyed myself for the first half, but I still wasn’t moved by the resolution. I believe this is largely due to the portrayal of Ken; the messaging regarding the patriarchy is hilarious and disturbingly relevant, but the filmmakers attempt to redeem the character without making him admirable. Although Ryan Gosling’s performance is electric and I pitied the character, Ken doesn’t do anything worthy of the audience’s praise or respect.

Barbie is a dazzling triumph, but it often feels more like a variety show than a film, and in its deliberately artificial world, the emotional weight lacks the authenticity and clarity I yearned for.

TAKE 4: Written by Daphne Bunker, Edited by Alison Smith, Newsroom alumna

Though the internet collectively exploded in anticipation for Barbie, the film is undeniably its own biggest fan. Directed by Greta Gerwig, Barbie follows the titular character (Margot Robbie) as she discovers something amiss in her perpetual best-day-ever life and must leave Barbieland, traveling to the real world to discover what’s wrong. And from the moment it begins, the movie is wholeheartedly dedicated to its own stylistic premise. With the ever-changing costumes of Barbieland, the beautifully artificial practical sets, and visual effects, the comically placed musical tracks, and a joyfully idiosyncratic tone, Barbie commits to the bit with creativity and earnestness, making for a wildly entertaining theater experience.

The film pulls off its comedy expertly. Greta Gerwig and Noah Bambauch’s script plays with its premise in such clever ways, and its commitment to its own comedy and creativity is infectious, within both the performers and the audience. The Kens, including but definitely not limited to performances from Ryan Gosling and Simu Liu, are an endless well of excellent delivery and comedic premises; Kate McKinnon as Weird Barbie is perfect casting for an even more perfect joke; the contrast between Barbieland and the real world makes for a great comedy of errors; and stylistic choices like narrator interjections, meta-humor, and fake ads for a “Depression Barbie,” who cries to the 1995 BBC adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, are dispersed throughout the film to stay fresh and funny.

The one place where Barbie loses focus is its social commentary. The movie goes back and forth with itself, trying to be both a metaphor for fighting real-world patriarchal structures and an alternate universe that completely reimagines gender dynamics. Societal relationships between men and women aren’t the one and only theme of the story, so the muddled social commentary isn’t too disruptive to the overall sharpness of Barbie’s script. However, when these opposing narratives reach their resolutions in the third act, the social commentary still hasn’t clicked into place, as if the film should have taken a scene or two to really untangle what it's trying to say. Instead, trying to understand the true heart of Barbieland’s conflict feels like asking for a single, driving thesis statement and getting a chorus of overlapping answers, untidy and unsatisfying.

But once the dust of the final struggle has settled, the film ends by refocusing its attention on Barbie herself, and in this respect, Barbie sticks the landing. To the final moment, the film portrays Barbie’s relationship with humanity with unrelenting sincerity. Margot Robbie and her scene partners, including Ann Roth’s “Woman on the Bench,” Gloria, and Rhea Perlman’s Ruth Handler ghost, develop Barbie’s story with quiet moments between the chaos, and the film beautifully strings these moments together to construct Barbie’s journey. The film’s greatest strength is how it depicts this sincerity through plastic pink visuals, dreamhouse worldbuilding, over-the-top comedy, and dialogue that sounds like an eight-year-old had a hand in the script editing. Barbie is funny, outlandish, colorful, and endlessly creative, all while never letting go of its honesty and earnest emotion. It’s an ode to the type of imagination in which Barbie exists, so often disregarded due to its association with girlhood and femininity, and it grabs hold of the audience, filled with people dressed up in pinks and rhinestones and occasional cowboy hats, to tell them that this imagination matters and holds profound emotion. Barbie embraces its own bubblegum and painted-blue-sky glory, pulls the audience into embracing it too, and harnesses it to tell the story of an iconic character learning what it truly means to be everything.

TAKE 5: Written by Aamina Mughal, Edited by Tova Gaster, TED alumna

Barbie: The Response to the Modern Classic Says More Than The Film Itself

Greta Gerwig’s Barbie needs no introduction. The film, starring Margot Robbie as Barbie and Ryan Gosling as Ken, has been the cultural phenomenon of the summer. As the first film solo-directed by a woman to surpass $1 billion at the box office, Barbie has cemented itself as a landmark film in cinematic history.

The film follows Barbie after she notices she’s “malfunctioning” in Barbieland — her waffles in the morning are burned, and she falls instead of floating off of her roof and into her car. In short, her life becomes less “perfect” and more human. She and Ken journey to the real world to figure out how to fix it. Barbieland is seemingly a feminist utopia, so when Ken and Barbie enter a society dominated by men, they walk away with very different perspectives.

Barbie is a clever and camp examination of womanhood and its impossible double standards. What’s most impressive about it though is its accessibility. The movie takes realities that have not always been widely spoken and put them into words. The film acts much like Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique which put words to the dissatisfaction that women (specifically, middle-class white women) felt in their roles as mothers and wives. The mainstream popularity of Barbie means that it is available to a wide range of feminine people who have all flocked to theaters, decked out in pink, to see it. At the same time, the discourse and discussion surrounding the film lays out on public forums like Twitter and TikTok.

Barbieland functions as a ground zero for feminism — a control group. Gerwig uses it as a tool to ask the question, what would happen if the patriarchy was introduced into a world run by women?

Looking at the film as a control group of society’s reactions to feminist media, what’s most intriguing about the film is the response to it. In some spheres, there’s a reclamation and celebration of femininity — women who are trying to examine their own internalized misogyny and heal from it. At the same time, there are enraged critics of the movie who argue that the film is “anti-man.”

Looking a bit deeper at the conversations that have gone on during the “Summer of Barbie” reveals a lot more about our culture.

While the film mostly covers patriarchy from a heteronormative standpoint, viewers have found allegories for queerness in patriarchal systems. Weird Barbie, a Barbie who was “played with too hard” and lives on the outskirts of Barbieland. Weird Barbie exists outside the accepted world of the Barbies. However, much like queer feminist thinkers, her position outside the accepted paradigm gives her a different perspective which helps the Barbies take back Barbieland. Similarly, Allan, Ken’s “buddy,” is disadvantaged by the society the Kens built, similar to the way that queer men are disadvantaged by the patriarchy.

Within those discussions, viewers validly criticize Barbie for a lack of intersectionality and explicitly queer representation. For example, America Ferrera’s character, Gloria, exemplifies the dreaded trope of the woman of color whose only purpose in the movie is to aid the development of a white woman.

While some audience members conduct in-depth analysis, there are also some rather tone-deaf responses. Viewers who argue that the film would never be accepted if the roles were reversed, in a sensationalist article for the New York Post, Piers Morgan predictably argues that the movie is anti-man and misandrist and he’s in the company of many conservative figures, including Ted Cruz. These viewers willfully miss the fact that the gendered power dynamics in Barbieland are a much milder version of reality. And no, that reality should not be accepted.

On the one hand, there is a genuine renaissance happening because of Barbie, and seems to be a healing force. Women of all ages have embraced stereotypically feminine aesthetics and used the film to think critically about internalized misogyny. Barbie is also a landmark success for female directors like Gerwig, both in terms of critical acclaim and earnings. At the same time, the movie reveals that there is still a resistance to successful mainstream media that not only centers women as characters but that harness uniquely feminine perspectives.

In many ways, Barbie is a social experiment painted in pink, and I fear we failed.

Lead Photo Credit: Margot Robbie in Barbie (2023), Directed by Greta Gerwig / Courtesy Warner Bros. Pictures/Courtesy Warner Bros. Pictures

The TeenTix Newsroom is a group of teen writers led by the Teen Editorial Staff. For each review, Newsroom writers work individually with a teen editor to polish their writing for publication. The Teen Editorial Staff is made up of 6 teens who curate the review portion of the TeenTix blog. More information about the Teen Editorial Staff can be found HERE.

The TeenTix Press Corps promotes critical thinking, communication, and information literacy through criticism and journalism practice for teens. For more information about the Press Corps program see HERE.

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