Barbies featured: Asha Kaur Birdi, Famke Veenstra-Ashmore, Gracie Clarke, Charlotte Conybeare, Alice Mainwood, Tia McBurnie, Isabel Dempsey (with her Ken), Helen Haines, Anna Metzger, Daniel Hilton (a true Ken), Nadine McBurnie, Cyclia, Sola Orelaja, Emma Kubilis, Lena Mijatovich, Jasmine Crosbie, Caitlin McIntoshHEIDI ATKINS FOR VARSITY

To start off my review – a confession. I am deeply embarrassed to say that for all of my childhood I suffered from an illness known to many of us as not-like-other-girls-syndrome. My earliest memories of myself are swaddled with a sort of militant tom-boy-ism. If there was a tree, I was up in it; if there was a bug, I was going to pick it up; if there was a dead animal, you bet your bottom dollar I was going to get a stick and give that thing a poke. These are all fine pursuits for a young girl, but my tomboyish ways soon morphed into something more sinister. I found myself spitting a new swear-word at my skirted peers: “that’s…GIRLY”. I refused anything pink, mentions of One Direction ceased, my love of High School Musical was deeply repressed and, above all else... I would never again touch a Barbie.

I know, now, that this mindset stemmed from millennia of misogyny that found home in my male peer’s sneers at anything “too feminine”, but my 6-year-old self’s distaste for pink has left me with a doll-shaped hole in my heart. I’ve tried to heal my missed girlishness with ultra-feminine outfits, glam makeup, and feminist theory but now, I have a brand new, glittery opportunity to help paint my soul pink: Greta Gerwig’s Barbie.

It’s really hard to give a concise summary of Barbie because the plot seems to change at the drop of a hat (or high-heel). We begin in Barbie-land where we meet Margot Robbie’s ‘Stereotypical Barbie’ who lives amongst an array of Barbie friends of all different sorts... and a whole lotta Kens who are all pretty much the same. But disaster strikes – Barbie’s feet go flat, she begins to think about death and suddenly…CELLULITE! We leave Barbie-land for the real world as Barbie is set on a quest to heal a divide between herself and the girl playing with her so she…doesn’t get uglier? Then it’s about the patriarchy, then about how Mattel (Barbie’s parent company) loves feminism more than profit, then about self-acceptance, before finally, gynaecology (see, I told you it would be hard to give a concise summary).

“the plot seems to change at the drop of a hat (or high-heel)”

A friend of mine described Barbie as ‘an episode of SNL’, arguing that it plays as a series of sketches rather than a cohesive movie. Unfortunately, he’s right. Some of these sketches are really quite funny – Ryan-Gosling-Ken’s ‘beach off’ with Simu-Liu-Ken was hilarious and Kate McKinnon’s performance as ‘Weird Barbie’ was stellar. But moments like this don’t change how disjointed Barbie feels. There’s no flow, the tone is inconsistent and even though there are some genuinely beautiful moments (Robbie’s interaction with an elderly woman at a bus stop is a particular highlight), it doesn’t make up for the rather jarring scene transitions. A series of great sketches doesn’t necessarily make a great movie.

Darcy Watkins - A friend of mine circa 2011 who is, to this day, a Barbie girl in a Barbie worldHEIDI ATKINS FOR VARSITY

The cynic in me wants to call Barbie a 2-hour long advert for Mattel…and the cynic in me isn’t entirely wrong. Will Ferrell’s fictional Mattel CEO is the most transparent ad in the movie. The jokes are based on his insistence that he cares about young women more than profits, that the board room is all male, and that women are infrequently made to be CEOs in the real world. Fine jokes, not biting satire, but fine…until you remember that a third of the executive producers are Mattel board members. Barbie isn’t selling you Barbies – it’s selling you the idea that the people behind Barbie are just like you and ‘in on the joke’.


I had high hopes walking into the film and was looking for something even a little critical of the film’s corporate backer. Or, at the very least, I wanted Gerwig to deliver on her promise that the film would have a Gregg Araki raunchiness to it, an early Pedro Almodovar camp, a Jacques Demy playfulness. I was met with ‘fun’, but not too fun; ‘fun’ that boils down to sanitised campy aesthetics with none of the trashiness and subversion that make true camp work. The film doesn’t go far enough and Barbie left me feeling as though I’d consumed ‘John Waters super-lite: for the heterosexual corporate businessman’.


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The politics of the film boil down to what can only be described as ‘feminism 101’. The angry feminist in me wants to decry the girllboss-diet-feminist politics of the film. But I left my screening of Barbie in a sea of smiling women wearing pink tops and chatting about the movie they’d just seen - surrounded by women of all ages, feeling happy and represented by the film. Corporate hypocrisies aside, I still deeply appreciate Barbie for what it is: a girly comedy for all audiences.

Barbie doesn’t reinvent the wheel, and it doesn’t commit to camp in the way I’d have liked it to, but it is a hot pink beacon of a turning tide against the ‘anti-girly’. Gerwig’s film is, I hope, a harbinger of women reclaiming their girlishness and enjoying it unashamedly. For all my criticisms, I loved the film for that and would now like to send my sincere apologies to any 6 year old who was on the receiving end of my snide “yuck, too girly” comments. I get it now - you were right.

Barbie is in cinemas now