Monday, 24 June 2024

‘Barbie’ a pink fantasy world of existential crisis


When fans of the Mattel toy franchise turn up in droves at the theater wearing different shades of pink outfits, it’s undeniable that “Barbie” would take the box office by storm.

The toy line produced for worldwide consumption is so ubiquitous the dolls have been around for more than 60 years.

The film pays homage to the creator with Rhea Perlman appearing as Mattel co-founder Ruth Handler giving encouragement for Barbie’s liberation.

March 1959 marked the launch of eleven inches of curvaceous adult plastic, a revolution in the doll industry, which up until this time only produced baby dolls.

The Barbie doll was named after Handler’s own daughter, and remains the world’s top-selling doll.

Check out Mattel’s website and you will find a seemingly endless variety of “fashionista” Barbie dolls and a bunch of Ken dolls, even one with a prosthetic leg. Inspiring Barbies include Dr. Jane Goodall, Rosa Parks, Susan B. Anthony, and Bessie Coleman.

How did I end up at this movie, you may ask? Two daughters were persuasive that this would be a nice family outing, and who can argue with that? Yet, “Barbie” is definitely not the type of entertainment that would have pulled me into an air-conditioned theater on a hot day.

What is the fuss all about? Margo Robbie is the “Stereotypical” Barbie, and let’s concede that she undeniably has the glamorous looks befitting the image of a blonde-haired and blue-eyed beauty queen.

At the film’s opening, the scene is Barbie Land, where just about everything is the color pink. Every day is bright and sunny and Robbie’s Barbie wakes up with a usual morning routine and waves to all the other Barbies in the neighborhood.

For some odd reason, the idealized setting of “Barbie” is reminiscent of another Warner Brothers film, “Don’t Worry Darling,” where the mid-century modern architecture lends itself to a flawless world in a desert environment, except nothing was truly perfect at all.

Barbie Land, with its impeccable dream homes and tidy landscape, is the fevered dream of a pink utopia, and yet Barbie is facing an existential crisis which will lead to leaving in her pink Corvette with Ken (Ryan Gosling) to find the Real World. Barbie Land is not perfect either.

Ken, like all his male counterparts in Barbie Land, is rather dim-witted and spends his time patrolling the pristine beach which doesn’t have an ocean. Water is non-existent in Barbie Land, which one would notice when Barbie takes her so-called daily shower.

Adding some fun to the Barbie world is Michael Cera’s Allan, the only non-Ken male doll, who’s different than the others in a fun and charming way, and who tries to make a break in the back of Barbie’s car.

There is no patriarchy in Barbie Land, which Ken knows nothing about since all the Barbies hold every position of power and prestige. A black Barbie (Issa Rae) is president. The Supreme Court is packed with all Barbies. Only a Barbie can be a doctor or lawyer.

The most fun Barbie is actually Kate McKinnon’s Weird Barbie, who is definitely neither glamorous nor a prototypical beauty queen contestant. Weird Barbie is delightfully funny and off-kilter. Her punk hairstyle and marked-up face are just right for the part.

Once in contemporary Los Angeles, role reversal comes into play for Barbie and Ken. Barbie is treated to a leering sexist objectification, while Ken finds ideas of a patriarchy starting to fill his empty head with a sense of male empowerment that doesn’t exist in Barbie Land.

The doll duo spend time in Venice Beach, where Ken discovers that his notion of “beach” from back home is quite different when he asks a lifeguard about getting a job.

With Ken strolling around southern California either in a fur coat or a cowboy outfit, he started to make me think of Jon Voight’s character in “Midnight Cowboy,” minus the sexual perversion of a seedy New York City in the late Sixties.

Taking to heart his newfound interest in male dominance, Ken organizes Barbie Land into something unrecognizable, a world where patriarchy takes over and an alternate world of frat house sensibility rules the day.

For Barbie’s sake, her new friends in the Real World include Mattel executive assistant Gloria (America Ferrera) and her surly teenage daughter Sasha (Ariana Greenblatt) who has outgrown any use for dolls. Both help steer Barbie back to her natural environment.

The most conflict Barbie faces in the human world is when she ends up at Mattel headquarters, and the smarmy CEO (Will Ferrell) wants to put her in a box package. The CEO and the all-male Board of Directors become the natural villains of the story.

To be fair, this reviewer was not the intended audience for “Barbie,” but Barbie Land’s alternate reality is the best part of the film, while the venture into the Real World offers some hilarious fish-out-of-water experiences for both Barbie and Ken.

Tim Riley writes film and television reviews for Lake County News.

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