Movies are back! While they haven’t technically gone anywhere, as studios have continuously forced them onto the unsuspecting public (even during the past few years of the COVID-stricken world), the movies have finally returned to their intended form!
For decades, the standard modus operandi of the average American moviegoer was to pile up all the kiddies in the minivan; pay for overpriced tickets; sit in dirty, uncomfortable seats; and witness the latest offering from Fox/Warner Bros./Marvel/Disney/etc., all while being ripped-off for a packet of Junior Mints and some stale popcorn. Just the way the studio gods in sunny California intended.
Now, the devilish witchcraft of streaming has allowed the everyday consumer to plop down on their comfy sofa with their loved one(s) and watch whatever their screen-obsessed hearts desire across a seemingly never-ending list of providers — all for a moderately priced monthly fee. Blasphemy, if you ask me.
Thankfully, nature is healing. Over the past weekend, America has gotten over its three-year antisocial phase and has flocked to the silver screen in droves. While tickets still cost too much, it’s been 27 years since the concession stand was last renovated, and there is a fair chance you’ll find yourself in an argument with the guy that stole your assigned seats, you can at least find solace in the fact that the seats recline now!
But moviegoers don’t care about the venue; they are there for the main attraction — masterworks printed onto celluloid by their generation’s greatest creative minds. So, what theatrical spectacles have convinced them to come home to the theaters? They came to see movies about a doll for little girls and a long-dead, fedora-wearing depressed guy who set off a bomb somewhere in the desert. How could anyone resist?
Greta Gerwig’s Barbie and Christopher Nolan’s Oppenheimer have overtaken the world’s cinemas. Weekend box office numbers put Barbie at grossing nearly $385 million, with Oppenheimer banking in an impressive $180 million.
Furthermore, social media has been ablaze. Given the contrasting subject matter of the movies, a meme/endurance test has sprung up, challenging individuals to see both films back-to-back, nicknamed “Barbenheimer.”
As someone with a two-hour attention-span limit, I immediately accepted the challenge, booked my tickets, and on opening Thursday night, I spent from 6:30 pm to slightly after midnight in the confines of the theater.
Seeing pink and plastic
Directed and co-written by Greta Gerwig, Barbie introduces viewers to the world of “Barbieland,” where all Barbie doll models live in a pink-colored wonderland of plastic Dream Houses and convertibles — a utopia fully dominated by women, with the men, all named Ken, merely acting as eye-candy side figures.
This point was the main gripe for some critics and online flamethrowers who dragged the film through the mud over its “anti-men” themes. National Review’s resident film critic Armond White said Barbie was tainted with director “Gerwig’s jaded-feminist adult social messaging.” Pro-Trump activist Jack Posobiec condemned the film as “a man-hating Woke propaganda fest.” Activist Ginger Gaetz, the wife of firebrand Republican Congressman Matt Gaetz, said it “tries to normalize the idea that men and women can’t collaborate positively (yuck).”
I must add that the thoughts of good reviewers like Armond White deserve to be regarded higher than the political operatives previously mentioned, but the sentiments remain similar.
After reading these critiques, I thought the movie might instigate the audience of teenage and 20-something women to rip me to shreds and stick my head on a pike. Thankfully, that didn’t happen.
You can call Barbie “anti-men” — but only if you take the movie at face value and fail to pick up on its decipherable in-jokes. Barbie should not be taken seriously or literally — it is a nearly two-hour caricature of every concept related to feminism — be it for or against.
The film’s action centers around Stereotypical Barbie (Margot Robbie), who suddenly begins having abnormal thoughts on her mortality. After learning that her thoughts and feelings correspond to those of her real-life owner, Barbie ventures into the “real world” of Los Angeles County to find her owner and bring joy back to their life.
However, Barbie, with her boyfriend Ken (Ryan Gosling) at her side, finds that an arduous task. Finding her tween owner Sasha (Ariana Greenblatt), Barbie is subjected to an over-the-top political rant from the girl, denouncing her as a “fascist” who has done irreparable damage to women worldwide.
It is evident through this tongue-in-cheek exchange that Gerwig does not view Barbie dolls as anti-feminist statements, instead poking fun at those who believe such ridiculous things.
Meanwhile, Ken finds happiness in the real world by discovering “the patriarchy.” Observing men as doctors, businessmen, and gym bros empowers Ken to disregard his life as Barbie’s companion and brings what he has learned back to the other Kens so they can take over Barbieland.
Barbie’s version of “the patriarchy” is not meant to critique the historically male-dominated world, but is a cartoonish representation of the very concept of “the patriarchy.” Barbie’s patriarchy is a blown-up stereotype of modern masculinity emphasizing horses, westerns, hangin’ tough, etc. In no way is it a representation of a complex reality or a big-screen manifesto on how men are evil, but a case of men vs. women ramped up for the sake of comedic effect.
Mattel, the company behind Barbie and the film’s co-producers, is also characterized in the extreme. The film portrays Mattel’s CEO (Will Ferrel) and his legions of black-suit-wearing board members as robotic businessmen trying to preserve the separation of Barbieland and reality — the clear antagonists. Through their attempts to send Barbie back home, the film presents its self-deprecating, self-aware side as Mattel makes a fool of itself.
Barbie is not without its tender moments. The spirit of Mattel co-founder and Barbie inventor Ruth Handler (Rhea Perlman) pops up to give the film warmth, telling Barbie she is more than a doll and can be whatever she puts her mind to. While cliche, the film’s boilerplate message of female empowerment cuts through the iciness and lands perfectly. America Ferrera, who plays Sasha’s mother, also conveys the same message.
Rather than seeing the film’s humor for what it is, Barbie’s political critics waste their energies on hot takes informed by the view that any piece of media with a slightly disagreeable message is unredeemable.
Similar to my experience with Sound of Freedom (which I enjoyed but which was also dishonestly criticized for being a “Q-Anon movie”), films do not deserve this unnecessary politicization. However, in the era where rage clicks drive corners of the political ecosystem — both on the left, right, and center — I sadly don’t expect anything less.
While Barbie may not be everyone’s cup of sparkly pink tea, breathless reactions against it are unwarranted and completely miss the film’s tone and underlying message.
Barbie will provide a good time for anyone who wants to laugh at well-crafted jokes, even if that means laughing at themselves.
Check in tomorrow, where I’ll dive into some lighter, happier, sunnier fare: Christopher Nolan’s Oppenheimer.