Warning: Minor Barbie spoilers ahead.
It had to be understood that once Greta Gerwig, the writer-director behind quick-witted, class and gender explorations like Frances Ha, Ladybug And Little woman was hired to lead Barbie (and co-write it with partner Noah Baumbach, no philistine himself as a filmmaker behind The squid and the whale, marriage storyetc.), the social commentary would go far beyond the inevitable “Barbie dolls are bad for body image” criticism.
The $145 million blockbuster from Warner Bros. and Mattel, plastered in roses, starry and overly buzzy, however, was widely marketed as an expansive fish-out-of-water comedy – in this case, Barbie (Margot Robbie) and Ken (Ryan Gosling) leave Barbie Land for the real world – a Will Ferrell-esque 2003 holiday favorite. (Ferrell co-stars in Barbieof the massive ensemble which also includes America Ferrera, Kate McKinnon, Issa Rae, Michael Cera, Simu Liu, Hari Nef, Kingsley Ben-Adir and Dua Lipa).
Therein lies the Trojan horse side of the film. Or as Gerwig compares it to, a certain type of cocktail.
“It’s like when you order a regular margarita and then realize while drinking it that it’s a spicy margarita,” Gerwig told us at the film’s press day in Los Angeles. “It was kind of how I wanted it to be. But those are the movies that I love so much. [The films of] Ernst Lubitsch and Preston Sturges and Howard Hawks. Movies that are blown away, but there’s a lot of depth underneath, it’s just not presented that way.
Make no mistake: Barbie is entertaining. And very funny at times. But it’s also sociopolitical as hell, with the film’s second half (nearly none of which has been shown in marketing) diving into a battle of the sexes, a sharp dismantling of patriarchy, and a refutation of gender norms. In one of the film’s most memorable moments, Ferrera (as a Mattel employee Gloria who follows Barbie around her homeland) delivers a searing, minute-long monologue about the complexities, hardships, and double standards that women are starkly forced to contend with.
“I wasn’t sure exactly what the tone would or should be, but I trusted Greta 100% to know, in the editing room, what made sense for the film,” says Ferrera (Real women have curves, Ugly Betty). “But she gave me so much permission to just play and find in every moment what it meant to me and what it meant to Gloria. And there are so many versions, funny versions, tragic versions. And she chose what she chose.
As for the Kens, who essentially stand against the Barbies after Gosling’s dumb blonde discovered patriarchy in real life, “I think they could have easily become these walking critics of a similar masculinity, in a very heavy, preachy way, which, by the way, I think they are in a way,” Liu says (Shang Chi). “But there’s something about the Kens where they just don’t know what they’re doing. And not that it absolves them of responsibility for their actions, but I think it’s ultimately a very promising place to say, look, the Kens are like kids. They just learn these behaviors because that’s what they’ve learned… They’re not inherently bad. They are not there to catch anyone. And that means anything that can be learned can be unlearned or evolved. »
While the film’s feminist layers and gender commentary are likely to elicit stronger or impassioned reactions (the film is already, predictably, drawing ire from conservative politicians for its “woke” message), it is BarbieThe more universal themes that resonated the most with the cast.
“You are good, you are enough. You already do it right,” says Robbie. “Literally, Barbie’s mantra is, you can be anything. And Barbie is everything. And that’s exhausting. Like, the idea that you can be anything and everything…I find that very overwhelming. So someone saying, ‘You are you and you’re awesome’ is a really beautiful message, I think.
“It kind of gives you a way to laugh at yourself, which helps to do that. And he does it in this really fun way,” says Gosling. “But somehow, when it’s over, you feel like something has changed.”
Add SNL McKinnon, who plays “Weird Barbie,” or the doll that was drawn on, had her hair pulled out and generally mutilated: “Just frickin’ be chill, OK? Like, be yourself. Be completely yourself. Bring your whole being. To hell with the rules. That’s the message. And what more poignant message could there be in the world? Come on.”
Barbie opens Friday, July 21.
Watch the trailer: