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Film Review: Barbie

FILM REVIEW
BARBIE
Rated PG-13
114 Minutes
Released June 21st

Please forgive me if I have a different take on the Barbie movie than most. The toys you play with as a child inspire your imagination and help develop your skills in make-believe, which is so very important to our mental health and stability. In 1959, Ruth Handler created the doll for Mattel, and it became an instant hit. I had one of the earliest Barbie dolls, in this movie referred to as “Stereotypical Barbie,” and brought to life brilliantly by Margot Robbie – whose physicality in becoming the doll is amazing. As a child, I didn’t want to play with my Barbie – I wanted horses and cowboys and Indians, who were all good guys to me because they rode HORSES! I guess I identify with Ken in this movie, who has a horse fixation. I did have an extraordinary Doll House that I loved playing with, that had been built by hand for my mom when she was a little girl, with incredible handmade furniture and accessories, so I could see why kids liked playing with Barbie’s Dreamhouse. In this movie, since there is a Barbie for everyone, I think I identify with “Weird Barbie,” played hilariously by Kate McKinnon.

This box office smash of 2023 has been a long time in the making. In 2009 the idea was floated to make a Barbie film, and several directors tried to get the project moving. Finally, a script was written by director Greta Gurwig and her partner Noah Baumbach that seemed timely and exciting, and the real CEO of Mattel, Ynon Kretz, gave them creative freedom to go ahead. The movie has now become a worldwide sensation. A report from Turkey describes people entering theatres for screenings dressed in outrageous pink Barbie costumes, just as they are in this country. The movie has become a cultural icon just as the doll did in 1959, and both movie critics and audiences are giving it a 90% positive score on the film rating site Rotten Tomatoes.

The movie is an homage to mid-Century culture that encompasses the existential anxieties of today’s world. There is a scene about Handler and a send-up of Mattel executives led by Will Ferrell. Interesting factoid: there is an old woman seen briefly who utters one of the most important lines in the movie. She is played by 82-year-old Oscar-winning costume designer Ann Roth. Also, note that Helen Mirren beautifully narrates key parts of the story.

There’s a lot going on in this movie and a lot of life lessons. In addition to a huge inclusive cast of Barbie and Ken dolls and the almost psychedelic creation of Barbie Land, Gerwig has set scenes in the style of at least a dozen classic films from the 20th century, including Saturday Night Fever, Midnight Cowboy, Clueless, The Red Shoes, Singin’ in the Rain and many more. “Gloria,” Barbie’s human owner, played by America Ferrera, sums up the quandary for women in our culture thus: “I’m just so tired of watching myself and every single other woman tie herself into knots so that people will like us.” Naturally, in these times, there are those who have politicized the movie. Most famously, Elon Musk thinks it’s a rant against patriarchal cultures.

Barbie is not a political treatise. It’s a movie about women having the courage to stand up for themselves and the wisdom to accept imperfection. It’s about men having the strength to show their vulnerability and know when to ask for help. It’s about all humans having respect for one another. Barbie and Ken both show they have a vulnerable side even before they visit the real world, played in part by Santa Monica and Venice in this movie. This is not about feminism. It’s about building confidence as a person, about developing trust in your own instincts and talents.

Kathryn Whitney Boole has spent most of her life in the entertainment industry, which has been the backdrop for remarkable adventures with extraordinary people.  She is a Talent Manager with Studio Talent Group in Santa Monica. kboole@gmail.com

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