“Barbie”: Feminism and Empowerment

I loved Barbie as a girl. I also loved Ken. One of the many things I adored about the doll was that she could be or do anything. I knew this because I had Astronaut Barbie and Rocker Barbie. My dolls were fabulous. What that means is that when I heard news about this film, I was very excited. I was even more excited when I saw the first trailers and saw Margot Robbie in the primary role. The trailer painted a fantastic film full of humor. The live-action element looked enticing. When I finally got my opportunity to watch the film, I was not disappointed. It was every bit as funny as I’d hoped but it did something even more magical, it was powerful, true feminism and empowerment, full of emotion. It demonstrated how much Barbie influenced young women and created a discussion about Ken’s role in Barbie’s world.


“Barbie” is a fantasy comedy film directed by Greta Gerwig, written by Gerwig and Noah Baumbach. In the film, Stereotypical Barbie (Margot Robbie) and her fellow Barbies live in a matriarchal society where women do all the important jobs, like running the country and being doctor’s while Ken spends his time at the beach. Beach Ken (Ryan Gosling) is only happy when he’s with Barbie but she prefers independence and her female friends. One night at a dance party, Stereotypical Barbie has thoughts about her own mortality leading her to an existential crisis. She seeks advice from Weird Barbie (Kate McKinnon), who tells her she is impacted by her owner and needs to head to the real world. Ken joins her and while Barbie tracks down her owner, a critical tween girl Sasha (Ariana Greenblatt) and her mother Gloria (America Ferreira), Ken discovers the patriarchy. He returns to Barbieland and recruits the other Kens, who brainwash the other Barbies into submissive roles. When Stereotypical Barbie returns, she realizes she has to fix  Barbieland before it’s too late with the help of Sasha, Gloria, Weird Barbie, Allen (Michael Cera), and other discontinued dolls. The film also stars Rhea Perlman as the spirit of Ruth Handler, the co-founder of Mattel, Will Farrell as the CEO of Mattel, and Helen Mirren as the Narrator. 


One of the reasons I liked the film so much is the way the writing focuses on identity and purpose as well as equalized treatment. In Barbieland, the Kens are not equal to Barbie, much like the real world treats women. But in the film, power and who has it is discussed. Exploring Ken’s issues, his lack of identity and purpose, allows the writers to shine a light on how women feel day to day. Also in the film, there is a speech by America Ferreira’s character that sums up how difficult it can be to constantly strive to be treated as an equal. That speech won’t just resonate with women, anyone who is different and struggles to be seen will find her words hitting home. The writing doesn’t just focus on women or the female voice. That’s why it works because we’re shown how complex equality and power can be and how even in Barbieland, there is room for growth. 

The other reason this film is so successful to me is the use of comedy. This is one of the funniest films I’ve seen. While there are jokes only an aficionado of Barbie could possibly understand, there are others that will cause anyone to laugh. The film uses satire and the perfection of Barbie and Ken to create humor. Barbie’s home with fake food and showers that don’t spray real water are hilarious. And even Barbie’s existential crisis is cause for laughs as Barbie’s feet go flat and she develops cellulite. It was humor like this that kept me engaged in the film and made the movie so much fun to watch. 

For fans of Barbie, who grew up with the dolls, the writers add to the fun by giving callouts to some of the more unusual dolls, now discontinued and some of the dolls I had. We see Astronaut and Doctor Barbie but we also see Midge, Skipper, and Sugar’s Daddy Ken as well as Allen and Earring Magic Ken. There are the Mermaid Barbies as well as  Kenmaid. Seeing all the varieties made the film special and even more fun. It reminded me why I loved Barbie and Ken when I was young. I think for those of us who grew up with the dolls it added a special homage to the movie.

The performances are excellent. Margot Robbie is stellar as Stereotypical Barbie. Her confusion and ability to use a deadpan expression to sell the humor are what made her performance so brilliant. Ryan Gosling as Beach Ken was phenomenal. Even more than Margot Robbie he excelled in his role and his performance adds so many layers of emotion and humor to the film. The chemistry between him and Robbie is pitch perfect. Kate McKinnon is funny as Weird Barbie and her performance is witty and intelligent. Michael Cera is superb as Allan, giving a performance that is warm and humorous. Simu Liu as Beach Ken’s rival, Tourist Ken added comedic touches as well, as they both vie for Barbie’s affections. Rhea Perlman was perfection. 

I absolutely loved this film. But there are moments where the humor is too silly. Will Farrell’s character felt over the top at times. While his performance was good, it also didn’t entirely feel necessary to the main story. The plot is also fairly simple. But Barbie is brought to life in glorious technicolor with such an attention to detail that you would have to watch the film multiple times to catch all the different Barbies and the exquisite moments of homage within Barbieland. It is full of infectious charm and while the story is simple, it is one we all can relate to: finding our purpose. And it gives us true feminism and empowerment. 

If you loved Barbie or just want to see one of the summer’s funnest and most charming films, I highly recommend you go watch “Barbie. It is fun, infectiously joyful even when in the midst of existential crisis and funny even in the darkest moments. It is hysterically funny and the performances are brilliant, especially Ryan Gosling and Margot Robbie. The film also acknowledges some of the issues with Barbie over the years and that touch of self-knowledge makes the film even better, allowing us to truly embrace our inner Barbie.  I know it made me wish I still had my old dolls, just so I could visit them one more time. 

Rating: 4 out of 5 Barbies 

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