Margot Robbie as Barbie. Margot Robbie as Barbie.

With a cluttered and flat plot, Barbie remains more of an extended advert than any kind of useful contribution to feminism, finds Lucy Nichols

If you’re looking for an in-depth analysis of women’s oppression under capitalism that both challenges and entertains you, leading you to question everything you thought to be true about the very nature of life itself, don’t go and watch Barbie. If you want a fun film, slightly lacking in plot but making up for it in clever mise-en-scène, get to the cinema now.

Greta Gerwig’s latest film stars the wonderfully comedic Margot Robbie (Stereotypical Barbie) and Ryan Gosling (Ken). It is an imaginative take on the coming-of-age sub-genre and surprised me by how funny it was – note the joke where Barbie is called a fascist and replies that she ‘never controlled the railways or the flow of commerce’.

The cast is star-studded and very good. Simu Lieu and Kate McKinnon appear as different versions of Barbie and Ken; Will Ferrell plays the benevolent CEO (normally a contradiction in terms) of Mattel. The film also includes the likes of Ncuti Gatwa, the newest Doctor Who; a former Love Island contestant; John Cena; and Rob Brydon.

It is hard to summarise the plot, which for me was the film’s weakest point and felt cluttered. It is set in between the ‘real world’ and Barbieland, where everything is run by women and the men take a backseat. All of the women are Barbies, and all of the men are Kens, except Alan (Michael Cera), who is just Alan.

There are a number of different stories going on at the same time; Margot Robbie’s Barbie attempts to save a mother’s relationship with her daughter, whilst also dealing with existentialism, having realised that she is sentient during a trip to the real world (Los Angeles) with Ken. Meanwhile, Ken (Gosling) takes a liking to the idea of ‘patriarchy’ while he visits LA, and stages a Ken uprising in Barbie Land, reducing all Barbies to the position of subservient housemaids, existing only to serve men. There follows an attempt at a Barbie coup of the newly christened ‘Kendom’. Margot Robbie’s Barbie creates a vanguard of guerrilla Barbies that work together to bring Barbie-consciousness to all the other Barbies. This includes the best line in perhaps the entire film; ‘Kenland contains the seeds of its own destruction.’

Reclaiming dreamland?

The remainder of the film chronicles this guerrilla movement’s attempts to reclaim the Barbie Land for the women and includes a couple of big musical numbers from Ryan Gosling’s Ken, who is dealing with his own existential crisis. We are also subject to one of Gerwig’s staples: a monologue from a female character about how difficult being a woman is (see Little Women, or Ladybird). The ending of the film is underwhelming and the last half-an-hour or so falls slightly flat in what is otherwise a creative and interesting film.

Now for the political analysis, not that there is very much to analyse. Barbie is not politically ground-breaking in any way. It regurgitates liberal-feminist ideas in a way that is palatable to Hollywood and doesn’t tell us anything we don’t already know about the oppression of women. It barely manages to say anything at all about the oppression of women and preaches to the audience about how difficult it is trying to be a woman whilst also having a job.

If we were to really dig deep, there are a couple of minor hints at the phenomenon of alienation felt by workers, seen in the colourless Mattel offices that appear in a couple of scenes. There is another hint at this with the creation of ‘Depressed Barbie’, who is essentially a woman in her 20s or 30s who feels totally alienated from her peers because she remains unmarried, destined to sit in bed and watch Pride and Prejudice all day. This alienation is also present in Barbie Land and is perhaps what spurs her feelings of existential dread, but we are really digging here.

As shocking as it may sound, Barbie isn’t a political film. It is more interesting to analyse the power of advertisement, and how far Hollywood has gone to promote what is essentially an empty plot with empty characters, covered in pink paint and sequins. It is probably worth seeing, and it is very entertaining, but I would wait for its inevitable release on whatever streaming service places the highest bid.

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