‘Barbie’: A Gen X Review of the Ultimate Millennial Movie
Two of our daughters and I planned to see “Barbie” soon after its release. I was curious, and the girls were excited. Verdict: One loved the movie, one hated it, and I fell asleep. Twice. I guess I’m too old for a 9:10 p.m. Thursday night showing with 30 minutes of previews.
I would never write a review of a movie I’d slept in, but there were a few things I noted. The audience that night was interesting. There were a few much older men, each alone. Several groups of three or four millennial-aged males. Large numbers of women of various ages and groupings, but mostly younger than I. And while I missed some of the plot and much of the acting, the movie itself was visually stunning. The wardrobe choices were wonderfully inspired and nearly wholesome by modern standards. Online manosphere claims to the contrary, it is still and ever more shall be a Man’s World, where big screen Barbie homage to female icon of fashion Coco Chanel is passé. The pink pages of London’s Financial Times instead offered Kudos to Ken, extolling cabana wear for the tycoon who plans to “beach” this summer.
So the daughter who loved it and I went back for another try, during daylight hours with a caffeinated beverage for insurance.
This time, it was my turn to love it. Yes, LOVE IT — even though it is decidedly not a movie made for me or with me in mind. It is a movie made by and for aging millennial women who are coming to terms with life and death. There is even a loving message for millennial men in the movie, dignifying Ken’s purpose and personhood apart from Barbie, as she comes to terms with her own meaning.
True, there is baby doll carnage in the opening sequence. The “Barbie” movie is not a bio pic or docudrama. The doll-smashing is a metaphor for young girls having other doll toy options. But I will take issue with the narrator on one point: motherhood is lots of hard and wonderful things — most especially fun, the best job in the world, and if it didn’t seem like it, shame on me.
Without spoiling too much, Stereotypical Barbie (Margot Robbie) has an existential crisis that can only be solved by leaving the feminist utopia of Barbieland to help the girl who is playing with her in the real world. Ken tags along and finds the real world much more interesting for him as a man. The two stick together for a while, but when Barbie is escorted away by agents from Mattel HQ, Ken doesn’t try to save her. For all the grousing about Ken, he remains the only character who goes to the library to better himself through reading. He applies his book learnin’ to Barbieland as only a Kendom maker could.
Barbie is replete with cinematic and cultural references, many of which are lost on me. For a millennial audience, they must be wonderfully ironic and nostalgic at once, a hallmark of great moviemaking. The choice between the pink high-heeled shoe versus the brown Birkenstock was a red pill-blue pill moment appreciated by this Gen Xer. The problem of the existence of pregnant Midge and pubescent Stacy in Barbieland playfully explores our fear of motherhood and the uncertainty of coming of age, but in Barbieland, if something is unpredictable, awkward, inconvenient, or scary, it is discontinued! I wonder which version of Barbie will be discontinued in the sequel? I can think of a few I wouldn’t miss.
Ultimately, manmade Barbie has to choose between a manmade (or in this case womanmade) world where things will never change and she will never die/live, or the real world (Creation), where she will get old and die, but she could also live a full life, with tears, joys, frustrations, accomplishments. This is a choice we all make every day when we pick up our phones and scroll instead of turning to God in prayer or going outside for a walk in the sunshine. I’m not going to tell you which one Barbie chooses. I hope for myself that I will choose more prayer, more life, more people. God’s plan for me and for you is so much more than we could ever imagine, whatever the Barbieland we have constructed for ourselves seems to promise. Only with God are we more than Kenough.
Meg Kilgannon is Senior Fellow for Education Studies at Family Research Council.