Patriarchy doesn't work, but matriarchy isn't the solution. Amy Ruffle reviews Barbie
Actress & film enthusiast, Amy Ruffle reviews Barbie.
As a girl who never really thought that life in plastic, was in fact fantastic, I didn’t think going Full-Barbie was on the cards for me in 2023… but like the iconic doll itself that has grown and evolved with time, through the hands of Greta and Margot, the pink party is in full swing and I am finally, at the age of 31, a Barbie Girl.
From a press tour and marketing strategy that will be studied for the ages, BarbieCore hype flew across the internet just as rapidly as the cast members flew across the globe.
Margot’s recreations of Barbie outfits were an undeniable zeitgeist moment, and the playful nature of the publicity gained infectious momentum, that felt like it was setting the film up with an impossible bar to meet.
It is certainly not a perfect movie, as our protagonist learns through the story, perfect is impossible, unobtainable, and there is plenty of beauty in imperfection.
Let’s start with the undeniable FUN.
This movie is a joy to look at. BarbieLand is a feast for the eyes and a true testament to incredible costume, hair and make up and production design teams. Everything feels like you could reach out and grab it, as you would a toy, and while the movie is far from a kid’s movie, it does not forget its roots as a child’s play thing.
We are introduced to the closest a human could ever come to Barbie in Margot Robbie, who embodies the doll with all of the beauty, thoughtfulness and gravitas required to play such a role. She toes the line of doll and humanity with grace and charisma that makes everyone want to be her, or be her best friend.
Through Ken (who so much has been said about Ryan Gosling in this role and it’s all warranted - it is big, broad, absurd and earnest simultaneously and a great comedic performance), we see that BarbieLand operates on a different speed to the real world. But before we can dive into anymore of that, we have a GLORIOUS disco style dance number that is a fun, silly and colourful and was made to be seen on the big screen.
These big dance numbers, and beach battles that I shall include in this category, are another success of the film in their bold swings, big stylistic choices, that embrace the camp attitude of the film, whilst paying homage to old Hollywood musicals. The ensemble cast play so well in these heightened moments, allowing the movie to follow the fun of the exaggerated characters.
The movie does not hold back from discussing the many flaws of Mattel and the patriarchal society that has existed unbeknownst to our heroes in BarbieLand. While there are some flaws in the execution and delivery of these themes, the overall message is heartwarming and empowering. More so than you would expect from a movie about Barbie.
There is criticism surrounding the viewpoint that this is all just one long ad for Barbie. While I absolutely think this movie will increase sales and revenue for Mattel, if a movie about Barbie was already going to be made, lets jump on that already moving train people!
Let’s change the Barbie narrative and USE the capitalist vehicle for something more.
The criticism that the movie ‘hates men’ makes me shudder. I hate to even address it and give it airtime, but I feel the need to talk about this reductive take on the film and dispel the notion. The movie is absolutely saying that the patriarchy doesn’t work. But it is also saying the matriarchy isn’t the answer either.
It is saying that actual feminism isn’t about supremacy, but about equality, and just because the movie disagrees with the idea that men should rule and run everything, doesn’t mean it thinks men should rule and run nothing. While I think some of this messaging was quite ‘on the nose’ and at times felt clunky and like it didn’t fit in tonally, it addressed key concerns about what Barbie has represented, and spoke to a world that Margot and Greta want the next generation of doll playing kids to see as normal.
With all the hype, the fact that it was a female director helming the film, and it being based on Mattel property, the pressure to be flawless and a raging success was huge, despite the many ‘fine’ movies that are released by men or big studios or superhero franchises every single year.
And don’t take this as a dig at anyone – it is impossibly hard to make a good film! – I just think we put extra pressure on situations like this to ‘prove’ a woman can do it and the end product is not afforded the same grace if it were to end up just ‘fine’.
Is it a perfect movie? No.
Is it a damn good time, full of laughs, absurdity and a big old heartwarming sentiment that hits you with the feels? Yes.
Go and see this with a crowd because it is warm and bright and filled with heart, and all the better for being seen on a big screen, with a room full of humans who also want to rollerblade to BarbieLand.