Monday evening, 6.15pm, Leicester Square, London. The place is filled with tourists, office workers, hawkers, pickpockets, sightseers and a cacophony of sounds. And a row.
A huge queue, around the cinema, around the Lego store, past the lurid M&M shop, all the way to Wardour Street.
I’ve honestly never seen anything like it. It felt more like a queue for some sold-out teen-bopper concert than a press night for a film about a plastic doll. There are security guards with wires coming out of their ears, bright pink influencers prepping for social media, officials with clipboards handing out bans for us all to sign.
A protester with a megaphone shouted: ‘Why are you doing this? It’s shameful. You woman – you should be ashamed of yourself for going into a picture like Barbie.’
Nervous laughter all around.
Barbie or no Barbie, this isn’t such a good movie on the inside. It’s uneven, disjointed, the plot has no real meaning – and the dead hand of corporate America is heavy on it
‘I took my daughter Bea, 20, with me – partly because she drove me half to death, partly as an unhealthy Gen Z counterpoint to my depressed mummy stance on Barbie’
‘We’re here for work,’ replied the woman behind me. ‘Then do another job!’ he replied. the touch
Every screen in that place was directed by Barbie. I took my daughter Bea, 20, with me – partly because she drove me half to death, partly as an uncomfortable Gen Z counterpoint to my depressed mummy stance on Barbie.
Despite the tagline — ‘If you hate Barbie, this is the film for you’ — I really didn’t think I’d be the target audience. And so it transpired. She loved every second; Me, not so much.
My main criticism, actually, has nothing to do with the content. Barbie or no Barbie, this isn’t such a good movie on the inside. It’s uneven, disjointed, the plot has no real meaning – and the dead hand of corporate America is heavy on it.
Sure, Mattel is mocked in the form of a pushy CEO and his competent sidekick. But the opening scene, in which a group of little girls in their Barbie messiah guises rip off the heads of their annoying ‘old fashioned’ dolls with gruesome violence, is actually quite terrifying. Like the ‘ghost’ look of Barbie’s inventor Ruth Handler, a sort of god-like figure.
But my main objection is that Barbie isn’t really a film about Barbie. It’s an hour and 54 minutes of extended mischief, peppered with some hilarious dance routines and one or two (fairly decent) jokes.
It’s a deeply anti-masculine film, an extension of TikTok feminism that portrays any form of masculinity — except the most anodyne — as toxic and predatory, and frames women’s liberation not as a movement based on achieving equality between the sexes but as a cultural one. Revenge vehicles designed to be written entirely out of men’s stories.
Every male character is either an idiot, a bigot or a sad, rather pathetic loser. If the roles were reversed, and a male director made a film about how all the women were hysterical, neurotic, gold-digging witches, it would be condemned – quite rightly – as deeply offensive and sexist.
In short, Barbie and Ken embark on an adventure in the real world to discover the source of Barbie’s sudden and unusual anxiety. Barbie gets a nasty shock – she’s not as universally popular as she imagined. Ken, on the other hand, has a great time, plugging away at the macho culture of LA and discovering that there is such a thing as ‘patriarchy’.
It’s a deeply anti-masculine film, an extension of all the TikTok feminism that draws on any form of masculinity.
Ryan Gosling inhabits the role of Kane with an infectious passion and just the right amount of tongue-in-cheek camaraderie.
Then he becomes a ‘real man’ (again, sketching out the most one-dimensional cliché), goes back to Barbie Land, organizes the equivalent of an incel rebellion (quite literally, given Kane’s lack of tackle) — and brainwashes all the Barbies into him. Become a willing slave. Strong Andrew Tate vibes, keep it that way.
Queen Barbie, aka Margot Robbie, must then organize a counter-revolution, which she does with the help of her human friends — mother and daughter duo Gloria and Sasha. Using their barbie wiles, they return the cans to their boxes. The film ends with her checking into a gynecology clinic, presumably so she can become a ‘real’ woman.
Don’t get me wrong: there are some very funny moments. ‘Weird’ Barbie (played by actress Kate McKinnon) is a great premise, a kind of intelligent Barbie-savant; Ryan Gosling inhabits the role of Kane with an infectious glee and just the right amount of tongue-in-cheek campiness; And Margot Robbie is, as always, a joy to watch on screen, utterly authentic and suitably endearing.
America Ferrera as Gloria, the Mattel employee whose struggles with her own teenage daughter (played by Ariana Greenblatt) called Barbie into the real world in the first place, is also great. But not even the combined talents of all these people could hold the thing together. There are just too many inconsistencies.
Barbie’s plastic fantastical world is portrayed as dull and shallow and devoid of real emotions – and yet when things start to get real, all the action restores it to the way it was before.
We’re told Barbies are all about empowerment, yet they weaponize their sexuality in the most crude ways — when it comes to cheating on the Kens, they do it by batting their eyelids like dumb dolls. Everyone mocks the Keynes for being useless and impotent, but when they try to be anything else, they are put down.
It’s all just a bit of a poorly thought out soup. Does it make me love Barbie? Of course not. But it makes me feel a little sad for those who subscribe to this nonsense – and for young people growing up in a world that tells them they’re worthless.
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