Show name: Barbie
Release date: 2023
Starring: Margot Robbie, Ryan Gosling, America Ferreira
Written and directed by: Greta Gerwig
Studio: Warner Bros
Length: 114 minutes
As regular readers of my reviews will already know, my daughter Midnight is studying film directing at film school.
But with the length of the country between us, Midnight and I don’t often get to the cinema together.
In fact, there was quite a debate recently about the last film we saw together in the cinema.
This just shows that it’s been far too long.
During my recent short visit to London to see her, we went to see Barbie at the Vue on Leicester Square.
I’ve seen so many films there in the past, especially when I was younger and lived outside London, so it was lovely to be back.
As someone who is nonbinary, I was also intrigued to see whether trans and nonbinary people would find a voice in what can be a very binary world as Barbie made her appearance onscreen.
Barbie began strongly with some laugh out loud moments, which for me included Margot Robbie appearing to children playing with baby dolls.
She revolutionises their world as they smash these dolls, realising that dolls can be so much more than just babies.
This sequence featured the famous soundtrack to the film 2001: A Space Odyssey – you know, the part where it uses Richard Strauss’s ‘Also Sprach Zarathustra’ – to greet Barbie’s appearance.
Barbie was very funny indeed, so this was only the first of many times I laughed out loud.
The premise is really simple. Stereotypical Barbie (Margot Robbie) and her other Barbie friends, in all shapes and sizes and with lots of different career achievements, have built a paradise for themselves after transforming the real world for girls and women.
They share it with the many versions of Ken. The stereotypical Ken (Ryan Gosling) yearns for Barbie’s attention and love, and he is defined emotionally by whether or not she loves him.
One of Ken’s funniest moments for me was when he presses Barbie to let him stay over. She asks him what they would do together if he spent the night, and he replies that he’s not honestly sure.
Life is perfect for Barbie, albeit less so for Ken, until she starts to get cellulite and begins to brood about death all the time. Weird Barbie (Kate McKinnon), who helps mend misfunctioning Barbies, explains that it’s happening because somewhere out there in the real world a girl is playing with Barbie and sharing her own disappointments.
This is Barbie’s first indication that the real world may not now be perfect so she heads off with Ken to investigate. Discovering the patriarchy is a shot in the arm for Ken, but Barbie is distraught. Luckily, Gloria (America Ferreira) and her teenage daughter are on hand to decode it all and combine forces with Barbie to lead the fightback against the patriarchy in the real world and the Barbie universe.
So, what about nonbinary people and trans folk in this binary Barbie universe? There was actually quite an inviting subtext. Not only was Ken’s best friend Alan (Michael Cera) gay, which introduced an LGBT element to welcome my community, but Barbie herself said a number of things that surprised me about gender.
Most of the film is about empowering men and women, so it would be easy to feel that other gender identities were entirely ignored.
However, Barbie proudly tells a group of real-world construction workers that she doesn’t have a vagina. Given that she identifies as female all the way through, I chose to interpret this as a positive inclusion of trans woman and of women without cervixes or who are infertile by choice or otherwise.
Barbie is funny, likeable, endearing and inspiring in equal measure. But she doesn’t have a vagina and is happy with that. I found this very welcoming as someone who is nonbinary. Why? Because if someone without a vagina can still be a woman, it’s easier for someone with one to be nonbinary.
Later on, Barbie does decide to visit a gynaecologist. However, given that she began life without a vagina and identifies as a woman, I interpreted this as a positive inclusion of trans woman. Many in the trans and nonbinary community will find this outcome relatable.
Overall, I loved Barbie. It divided audiences, with many one-star reviews and many five-star reviews. I didn’t really know what to expect and perhaps that made it easier for me to love it. But if you were looking for a children’s movie, this probably wasn’t it.
The film was aimed at adults and the dialogue and acerbic commentary from Helen Mirren challenged many of our preconceptions of gender roles including female empowerment and male fragility. Like any really good movie, it had the capacity to leave pretty much everyone feeling uncomfortable, but that’s a good thing because it is both entertaining and very thought provoking.
I’ll leave the last word to Ken, who spoke for all men (and actually anyone who feels a bit overwhelmed with life) when he sang ‘My name is Ken and I’m enough. I’m really good at doing stuff’. He was later wearing a T shirt with “I’m Kenough” on it, and I’ve seen this phrase all over social media since watching the film so it’s entering popular culture already.
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