MARTHA SEZ: ‘Barbie does have some thought-provoking moments’

According to “The Guardian,” filmmaker Greta Gerwig’s “Barbie” pulled in $377 million, while Christopher Nolan’s “Oppenheimer” brought $174 million, making “Barbenheimer” the biggest box office weekend of 2023.

I went by myself to see “Barbie” at the Regal Champlain Centre theater in Plattsburgh on July 21. Four young girls, all bubbly and all appropriately costumed in heels and pink outfits, happily let me take their picture at the concession stand. A young man told me, “I’m Beach Ken!” He did look the part. I didn’t have any trouble getting in, although I’ve heard that in New York City tickets were sold out. “Barbie” was fun.

“Oppenheimer,” on the other hand, is three hours long and from what I’ve heard is not fun, although one feels that one probably should see it. “Oppenheimer” is heavy.

“Barbie,” while sprinkled with mentions of patriarchy, is not heavy into politics or anything else. Watching “Barbie” is entertaining mostly because of the nostalgia we feel for the ubiquitous doll — which frankly always had its controversial aspects. These mixed emotions were addressed in the movie.

Margot Robbie was perfect as Stereotypical blond Barbie, and Ryan Gosling was great as her boyfriend-not boyfriend Beach Ken. Helen Mirren sounded knowledgeable as narrator. Will Ferrell was hilarious as the villain of the show, the Mattel CEO who was trying to put Barbie back in the box after her escape to the real world.

Weird Barbie (Kate McKinnon), who, reminiscent of Margery Williams’ Velveteen Rabbit, has lost her original luster by being played with by a child, sends Stereotypical Barbie to the real world. Weird Barbie has the hairdo typical of Barbie dolls whose hair has been chopped off with scissors– it sticks up in straight hanks. Her face looks as if someone scribbled on it with Magic Markers and, as Stereotypical Barbie remarks in the movie, she is always doing the splits.

Beach Ken stows away in Barbie’s pink convertible. He is overwhelmed with delight to discover real-world patriarchy. It’s a revelation to Ken, who is accustomed to life in Barbie Land where “she’s everything, he’s just Ken.”

In Barbie Land, all of the Barbies live in Barbie Dream Houses, and every night is girls’ night. Stereotypical Barbie won’t allow Ken to spend the night.

My mother brought home the original Barbie, a hard-faced, unsmiling fashion doll beautifully dressed in a coral-colored knit cardigan with tiny gold buttons and a gray flannel skirt, when I was 13. She had the same impossibly long-legged figure and tiny high heels as contemporary stereotypical Barbie. Afterwards, my daughter Molly and her daughter Emma have owned countless Barbies of many skin tones and hair colors.

Ken’s lament did awaken some emotion in me when he protested to Barbie, “It’s always BARBIE and Ken.” I thought, yes, the reverse has been true for women; brides traditionally take the last names of their husbands. Julie Anne Jones suddenly becomes Mrs. Bill Anderson. It’s a strange feeling to lose your identity that way. I remembered that after my father died my mother complained that she was still Mrs. James Allen, defined socially by her absent husband, as a widow. So Barbie does have some thought-provoking moments.

When I was 4 years old, I coveted what I called the “bride and broom” figurines from the top of a wedding cake.

It was the wedding-cake bride, of course, in her beautiful gown, who mattered. The little groom, in his conservative black suit and top hat, was merely incidental, necessary in order to showcase the bride, but with no intrinsic value of his own. His relationship to the bride was the same as that of a Ken doll to Barbie, a relationship best defined by my daughter Molly when she was about 7 years old while playing dolls with some of her friends.

“Here, let me fix Ken for you,” I said. I had just seen his head where it had rolled under the staircase.

“No, that’s all right, Ken’s busy with Barbie right now,” Molly told me.

“But he doesn’t have any head.”

“That doesn’t matter.”

“Would it matter if Barbie didn’t have a head?”

Molly looked up at me, incredulous. “Well, of course it matters whether Barbie has a head!”

When Molly’s daughter, Emma, was 4 years old, I overheard her playing with her Barbies.

“Oh, Charlotte!” one was gushing to another, “I NEVER seen your wedding dress before!”

Wait, what’s that rolling across the living room floor? Oh never mind, it’s just Ken’s head. Have a good week!


(Martha Allen lives in Keene Valley. She has been writing for the Lake Placid News for more than 20 years.)

Starting at $1.44/week.

Subscribe Today