Barbieheimer: The Sequel

I took myself to see Barbie this week. When I first heard about the movie, I figured it was one I’d never see. There were many reasons for that:

  • I never had a Barbie doll. (I was too old for dolls by the time Barbie became a big thing.)
  • I hate pink.
  • Mattel is corporate America personified and they supported the movie.
  • I came of age with second wave feminism. We rejected Barbie along with Miss America.

There was only one argument for seeing it: Greta Gerwig.

I have to admit that was a pretty strong argument in favor, but I remained skeptical.

Then I saw Oppenheimer, which was so relentlessly about men that it flunked the Bechdel test.

Plus I read some reviews and essays that made me think Gerwig really had managed to do something good with the movie despite having Mattel’s approval.

So I went. I did not wear pink.

It was a fantastic movie. I thoroughly enjoyed myself.

And yes, it was feminist as all hell.

From the moment Barbie appeared onscreen amidst a group of girls playing with baby dolls, her appearance accompanied by the rousing fanfare of “Thus Spake Zarathustra,” I knew I was in good hands.

It completely embraced and explored the complicated lives of women today — a sharp contrast with Oppenheimer, which focused on some of the worst aspects of men among men, but provided no hope that they might change.

The movie managed to be silly and frothy and complex all at the same time. I mean, it inspired fascinating essays like this one by Meg Elison comparing it to the Sumerian myth of Inanna.

That’s real art.

I must say, I didn’t find much to identify with among the Barbies in Barbieland, except for Weird Barbie, played by Kate McKinnon. She was the nod to the way many girls played with Barbies — cutting their hair, painting their faces, putting them in weird positions.

I’ve seen several reports online of the wild things girls did with their Barbies. I think that experience laid the groundwork for projects like Art Activist Barbie.

But the movie’s messy human world — even though it’s one where far too many men are still in charge — appealed to me. America Ferrara’s Gloria in the movie — not to mention her daughter Sasha, played by Ariana Greenblatt — left me with the feeling that feminism has soaked deeply enough into our culture that things will not go back to the way they were, despite all the efforts of the misogynists running around banning books, not to mention abortion.

Barbie, weirdly, is part of that.

I didn’t have a Barbie, but I remember when the doll came out, remember that there was controversy about a grown up doll. There were grown up dolls before — I did have a Madame Alexander doll, with a complete wardrobe that my grandmother made — but they were designed more for show.

Barbies were played with. They were commentary. And the movie got all that.

It is such a joy to see a movie made for and about women, a movie that doesn’t shrink from its feminism, breaking box office records.

And it’s breaking records because it’s just a damn good movie that uses what movies can do that other art forms cannot.

There are a lot of lessons the movie industry should learn from Barbie. The most obvious is that you can make movies that are about women and people will go to them.

Given that Mattel wants to make more movies, I fear the industry will get the wrong message and just make more movies about toys.

I doubt those will draw the same kind of crowds.

Still, I feel happier and more inspired about the future of feminism than I have been in awhile.

But I’m still not planning to wear pink.

4 thoughts on “Barbieheimer: The Sequel

  1. I think what surprised me was how exhilarating the movie was–from that opening, brilliant sequence onward, it was one long **wheeeeee!**, while being thoughtful at the same time. That’s a hell of a hat trick.

  2. Saw Barbie in the last week or so and agree with all of your comments. Even shed a tear or two with the ending. If I had a daughter I’d get her the DVD to watch it over and over.

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