Meshuga For Movies: Barbie

No, I did not see Oppenheimer. Yes, I cannot write this post without saying that. Yes, I saw Barbie twice and I am fervent in my belief that it was an intellectual pursuit. I think Barbie would argue that I am not better or worse whatever I did — and I am inclined to agree.

Let me just say it here first. You’ve seen the articles. Your Rabbi probably mentioned it in their sermon this week. Barbie is Jewish. Okay, I mean her creator, Ruth Handler, is. In a near-Biblical telling of the creation of Barbie, the film explains that the Barbie doll was a response to the fact that young girls only had baby dolls to play with.

Wanting her daughter, Barbara, to imagine herself as something more than just a mother, Ruth Handler came up with the idea of Barbie, in all of her beautiful blonde, tall, too skinny to be able to properly hold her organs, glory.

*Insert narration voiced by a self-aware Helen Mirren here* Now wait, the creator of Barbie is Jewish, but Barbie herself can hardly be described as Jewish. In many ways it is not an absurdly extreme claim to make that Barbie seems to be the antithesis of what a Jewish girl would grow up to be. This is not to say that Jewish people have a certain look, or that Jewish people cannot be tall, thin, and blonde, but suffice to say, Ruth Handler (especially post-double masectomy), did not resemble the doll she made for her daughter. Was Handler — herself a witty, driven businesswoman — not enough to inspire her daughter?

This is very true, Helen Mirren narrator voice, but if there is one thing we have learned from Oppenheimer and Barbie coming out at the same day — and from Barbie and Ken existing in the same Barbieland — it’s that this duality and contradiction can exist and it is our choice as to how we respond to it. 

Criticisms (and jokes) aside, I loved this movie. I knew from the moment I walked into the theater, in head to toe pink, that I would love this movie. I was proven right. I laughed. I cried. I wanted to go to Barbieland. I wanted to give Gloria (played by America Ferrara) a hug for putting to words the impossible dualities and contradictions women have to live with.

Director Greta Gerwig just got it. She captured those weird contradictory simultaneous feelings that we have of Barbie: Feelings of jealousy, anger, nostaligia, and hope. I am using the word contradiction a lot here on purpose, because this movie thrived in that middle ground of acknowledging Barbie’s flaws while also reminding us why we all used to love her as a child. And then hid her in the back of the closet or donated her the second someone told us Barbie wasn’t cool to play with anymore.

Gerwig managed to give a real, beating heart to plastic. Who else could do that? It did not feel like a single detail was missing. From Barbie (the one played by Margot Robbie) floating down to her car because no one walks their Barbie downstairs, to Barbie (played by Kate McKinnon) having hair chopped off, marker on her face, and permanently in the splits due to the weird fixation we all had with self-styling our dolls. (She made me remember fondly the Barbie that was given to me by my neighbor when she became too old for hers that was missing a leg. My mother told me not to play with her, and yet, one-legged Barbie became my favorite).

The genius of Gerwig is that she seemed to understand that and respect it. Barbie is memorable for not being your typical fish out of water story. Barbie is not trying to fit into a real world that is not what she expected, and “girl power” and “girl bosses” alone do not save Barbieland. The choices made by the characters feel less predictable and cookie cutter so I found myself pleasantly surprised by the twists and engaged throughout.

I would be remiss to ignore that this feminist, bright pink, meta movie is also a major win for capitalism and a life-saving move made by Mattel to continue selling the same flawed, impossibly high-standard doll with the added rose-colored filter of feminism, and that it’s not Barbie’s fault she’s pretty and blonde, and she is empowered despite it and in spite of it. Also, buy more dolls! However, even knowing this, I am again drawn to an acceptance of contradictions and duality and I can hold both beliefs that Barbie is a must-see, a win for empowerment, and a thought-provoking movie — and it is also a major win for capitalism.


Humor — 8/10

This movie is make-the-whole-theater-laugh-out-loud funny. It has the right amount of self-awareness and meta jokes without feeling like the movie is laughing too hard at itself. Throughout, it really feels like the viewer is laughing with the movie and not at it.

The only reason Barbie lost points is because I don’t think Will Ferrell is funny. I can’t change who I am, I am Kenough, and I think Will Ferrell’s humor of yelling at things dramatically is not funny. If someone told me that Ferrell was there as the incompetent Mattel CEO in order to solely make the all-star female actresses look even more funny than they already are in contrast, I would have believed them. 

Acting — 10/10

I don’t give a 10/10 often. But Margot Robbie and Ryan Gosling earned this Ken/Ken, I mean 10/10 without a doubt. They both mastered this absolute emptiness in their eyes that only dolls have. Then, as Barbie became more aware, Margot Robbie brought the light back into her eyes.

I do not know how they did it — and believe me, I’ve been practicing in the mirror. I do not know if it was all acting or an addition of special effects, but it was fabulous. 

Storyline — 8/10

The storyline was fresh without being overwhelming. I will confess I was nervous this story would just be another doll come to life, a fish out of water story not unlike Enchanted or Elf. Barbie takes elements from those without being redundant. Then, it sprinkles in a bit of The Truman Show, makes it more meta, and adds that unique Barbie sparkle, and Gerwig has written a story unlike any I’ve seen before.

Jewishness — 7/10

Of course, it’s Jewish, I wrote the whole first paragraph about that! But I have to be a little bit more nitpicky now. There are three Jewish actresses in the film: the iconic Rhea Perlman playing the iconic Ruth Handler, the young Ariana Greenblatt as Sasha, and Hari Nef as Doctor Barbie — and Jewish rock band Haim is featured on the soundtrack.

All in all, not a bad lineup, but none of the characters are explicitly stated as Jewish. While Ruth Handler was actually Jewish, her Jewishness is not portrayed in the movie. Did we need the movie to mention it? No! Would it have been cool? Yes!

Maybe Will Ferrel said it best as Mattel CEO that “some of [his] closest friends are Jewish.” The Barbie movie could very well say the same. Also, don’t think I forgot that Gerwig herself said that she wanted Barbie to “feel like Shabbat.” I don’t exactly know what she meant by that, but I will let you all be the judge. 

Emotions — 9/10

Just wait until you see that montage at the end. It made me want to call my mom. I still want to call my mom. And see this movie with her. And find my old Barbie dolls and play with them again. I’m sorry I abandoned you One-Legged Barbie, and Wedding Dress Barbie, and Singing Gabriella from High School Musical Barbie, and Fairy Magic Barbie, and… This movie had laughs for sure, but it also had so much heart. 

The Soundtrack — 7/10

The soundtrack was good, don’t get me wrong. My personal standouts were Pink by Lizzo, What Was I Made For by Billie Eilish, Dance the Night by Dua Lipa, and the inclusion of Closer to Fine by the Indigo Girls.

The soundtrack had great songs, but it still felt like something was missing. I do not think I am alone in saying that there was a lot of disappointment when Sam Smith was announced as the surprise artist on the soundtrack. Speculations included powerhouses like Dolly Parton, Miley Cyrus, or Taylor Swift. So, yes, the soundtrack and subsequent album were good, but it hurts knowing that it could have been better. 

Likelihood to End the Patriarchy Once and For All — 2/10

I mean it could, but I don’t think it will… Don’t worry though, go buy an “I am Kenough” sweatshirt from Mattel. 😉

Overall: 7.2

For those of you who are paying attention, this is the highest score I have ever given a movie ranking, and yeah, the movie of the summer deserves it. I am putting in my bet now, that Barbie will first take the box office by storm and then the Oscars. Ladies and gentlemen, Barbies and Kens, I think we have a future best picture winner.