Anyone watching television in the last few months has been inundated with marketing for the “Barbie” movie. It wasn’t just in the movie commercials. It was in commercials for cars and other products. It was inserted into the plots of reality shows. It was everywhere. It’s not a movie I had any interest in seeing, whether it was a movie made for grade-school girls or a satirical sendup for the angry feminists.
But my wife wanted to see it, so off we went. It was the worst movie we’ve seen since “Elvis.” It’s a disjointed mess. Just like “Elvis,” we sat through it despite the temptation to skedaddle.
It’s like a series of bad “Saturday Night Live” sketches that are placed at the end of the show. Any movie that ends with a triumphant first visit to the gynecologist? Eminently skippable. “It’s like Pinocchio, with tampons” did not make the newspaper blurbs.
Mattel wanted to make a “Barbie” movie to sell more Barbies, but they couldn’t just make a cartoon for little girls. No, it had to make an ironic adult blockbuster mocking itself with a preposterously plastic indictment of the patriarchy. Christian Toto counted ten utterances of “patriarchy” in this movie -- and none of them made all the promotional material that inundated TV watchers. It snuck up on you at the cineplex.
It made me think of leftists like Todd Gitlin writing about capitalist “hegemony,” about how capitalism is so malignantly adaptable that it absorbs socialist critiques and somehow evades its own collapse. So the mega-corporation that makes Barbie dolls subjects the audience to a teenager yelling at Barbie: “You represent everything wrong with our culture! You destroyed the planet with your glorification of rampant consumerism, you fascist!”
Barbie is not a fascist. She’s a toy. But yes, she’s a flashy and colorful toy, with many accessories. If they made Maoist Barbie, she’d only come with one outfit and a little red book. Surely, the movie will lead to more Barbie-doll sales. Rampant consumerism still wins.
At the movie’s beginning, “Barbieland” is a utopian matriarchy. Women run the world, with a female president and an all-female Supreme Court, and the stable of Ken dolls are oafish, stone-dumb accessories. “It’s not man-hating,” my wife argued. Well, if you scripted a G.I. Joe movie where all the women were this painfully dumb, the script would be shredded and then burned.
Greta Gerwig, the mastermind of this dreadful melange -- whose film “Lady Bird’‘ was a much better movie -- clearly set out to make a cartoonish indictment of men and the buffoonish women who have submitted themselves to them for millennia. Naturally, the indictment of old-time religion is in there somewhere.
“Barbie was invented first,” Gerwig told Vogue. “Ken was invented after Barbie, to burnish Barbie’s reputation in our eyes and in the world. That kind of creation myth is the opposite of the creation myth in Genesis.” Gerwig explained that at the film’s beginning, Barbie lives in a world with no aging or death, and then she becomes self-conscious -- like Adam and Eve. She said this “resonates” with her, and her Catholic-school upbringing. Obviously, she’s turning the Bible upside down and inside out.
This feminist screed could have been worse. It could have ended with Barbie triumphantly getting an abortion. But that could represent one less little girl reaching for a Barbie doll.