Section: Arts

Excess consumerism clouds feminist critiques in “Barbie”

“Barbie,” director Greta Gerwig’s latest endeavor and arguably the film of the summer, is a riotous good time and one of the craftiest advertisements for a toy I have ever seen. Hordes of moviegoers are flocking to clothing stores and Mattel’s website to join the Barbiecore bandwagon, while social media influencers show off their hot pink outfits and new Barbie Mattel eyeshadow palettes on Instagram and TikTok. 

Gerwig, however, has tried to add substance to what appears to be an elaborate marketing campaign. The film addresses complex themes of mother-daughter bonding, healing one’s inner young girl and breaking free of viewing the self as a product to be marketed to a patriarchal society. Unfortunately, Gerwig and co-writer Noah Baumbach have dumbed these ideas down in their execution, relying on heavy-handed monologues dispersed throughout the latter half of the film.

Considering that this film is marketed to the general public, particularly teenage girls, I can see why Gerwig and Baumbach chose to present their ideas in this more palatable manner, especially with Mattel most certainly watching their every move. It is commendable that they managed to create some nuance in a film which bases itself around an initially unfeeling doll and which has to remain marketable for one of the largest toy companies in the world.

Despite some essential shortcomings within the screenplay, Margot Robbie as Barbie and Ryan Gosling as Ken give stellar comedic performances. Although Robbie’s Barbie often feels cold, this is somewhat understandable, considering she embodies a plastic toy. Gosling is surprisingly perfect as a doltish Ken and provides a flamboyant contrast to Robbie’s more subdued Barbie. Supporting characters such as Michael Cera’s Allan and Kate McKinnon’s Weird Barbie are priceless and practically steal the show from Robbie. Conversely, the two main human characters – America Ferrera as Gloria and Ariana Greenblatt as her daughter Sasha – feel underdeveloped and more like plot devices than actual people. I was disappointed that they remained devoid of much personality despite a suspenseful buildup to their reveal in the film.

The film’s design is impeccable. The set designers and makeup and costume departments have created a candy-colored world as vibrant and exciting as the actual dolls and their accessories. Perhaps this is why the film has inspired, more than anything in my opinion, consumerism on the part of young women hoping to look like their new favorite character. Although I take no issue with pink making a comeback, the film’s dependency on its brand deals causes the feminist message to feel co-opted by Mattel as a marketing ploy.

If you loved “Barbie,” I don’t blame you. The songs and costumes are fun, Robbie and Gosling are a great on-screen pairing and the film really did make some hilarious and bold creative choices in terms of dialogue. However, I am skeptical of supporting this new wave of intellectual-property- and brand-based movies, as art becomes co-opted by consumerism, and thought-provoking messages on gender and society must be dumbed down to cater to brands’ general markets and to increase sales. 

If one goes into the theater without expectations of an overly intellectual message, “Barbie” holds up; it is an entertaining meta retelling of what every young girl goes through as she realizes that fitting into patriarchal society’s idea of what a woman should be in the contemporary world is not indicative of happiness. Viewers must look beyond the consumerist trends this film has inspired to achieve a true sense of self and place in the world.

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