Don’t get me wrong, I found Barbie fun to watch. The constant comedy was hilarious, the acting was brilliant, and I was in awe at the intricacy of the sets and costumes. That being said, there is something seriously amiss with Greta Gerwig’s latest production: The Barbie movie isn’t as deep as it is trying to be.
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Throughout Barbie, we heard many ‘feminist’ messages, which, although punchy, were far from revolutionary. It actually felt counter-revolutionary to be brought to laugh at men, wallow in women’s woes, and seek revenge. I know Barbie is ‘satirical’, but these coping strategies are rife among real women (see 1, 2), and there are far more mature and empowered ways to be a feminist.
Furthermore, Barbie could have been considerably more revolutionary with its existential themes, like Barbie and Ken’s identity crises and the ideas of free will and mortality. But for various reasons, which I will go on to explain, I couldn’t take the film’s existential themes seriously.
First of all, there was too little build-up to Barbie’s decision to become human—in fact, her choice felt contradictory given the sexism she experienced in the real world. Second, the emotional impact of Ken’s identity crisis was, for me, compromised by his silliness. The boy band singing and dancing were so amusing that they overshadowed his plight.
Third, with the concepts of free will and mortality, Barbie had the chance to alter minds like The Truman Show. But it didn’t. These themes were rushed over by Gerwig and seemed like an add-on to create a false veil of depth. Briefly referencing The Matrix’s red pill vs blue pill moment isn’t deep—it’s not enough, and it’s old and overdone.
All of that doesn’t diminish the fun I had watching the film, of course. I laughed many times, cried when everyone cried, and enjoyed some confirmation bias with the gender-related jokes. Looking back, however, I realised that all those emotions were just a barrage of dopamine hits—a convenient distraction from the film’s plot holes and juvenile treatment of core themes.
Perhaps, of course, the superficiality and absurdity of Barbie are deliberate. But if so, I think that is a shame. If Gerwig had taken the film more seriously—even just in a couple of places—the results would have been magical.
Toning down the constant comedy and crafting the story and themes with more maturity would have made the Barbie movie a masterpiece. It’s a shame that Gerwig seemingly drew her inspiration from TikTok feminism and Matrix memes.