This weekend I had the darshan of some classic Americana: I saw the triumph that is the new Barbie movie at one of America’s dwindling temples of culture: the Drive-In movie theater. I hopped into my car and hit the open road, driving up to the New Hampshire state line to catch the late show at the Northfield Drive-In. I hadn’t seen a movie on the big screen since the Before Times, but the truth is, Barbie was calling.
I’d heard that the movie had subversive (read: feminist) culture-jamming content and that the female director, the previously unknown-to-me Greta Gerwig, had said something to the effect of “I can’t believe they let me make this movie.” Color me intrigued.
Well, I gotta say: seeing Barbie at the Drive-In was a great experience! I lol’d, literally, through the whole smartly-written movie. Sure, the candy-colored set design was fantastically bubble-gum pink and unreal, but the rapid-fire social commentary came so fast it was a bit hard to catch every reference. My jaw may have dropped first while witnessing the scene where we see that the Ken dolls’ approach to conflict resolution was literally to threaten “I’m going to beach you off”–and that was just the beginning.
I won’t try to review the entire movie plot line here, but I found it a brilliant, hilarious and saccharine-acerbic sendup of our current cultural moment, awash as we are in our revanchist political moment, where the 1950s are calling and “want their country back”–a pre-dream of equality country where all girls know that their place is not just in the kitchen, but subservient in every way to unreflective and unreconstructed patriarchy. Ryan Gosling’s Ken and Margot Robbie’s Barbie make the trek from Barbieland into the Real World–hello, Venice Beach!–to try to mend an emerging rip in the cultural fabric that has Barbie wrestling with existential thoughts of death. There, Ken’s discovery of the patriarchy and a culture ruled by men (I’m looking at you, Anno Domini) inspires him to return to Barbieland to take things over and place the Kens above the Barbies.
America Ferrera’s much-discussed “It is literally impossible to be a woman” monologue, speaking to the unspoken yet profoundly embedded social expectations that women be the impossibly perfect expression of every virtue all at once while boys will simply be boys, has deservedly garnered plenty of attention. But I actually found the many swift asides, one-line castoffs and other in-passing verbal skewers of our remarkably resilient modern misogyny to be even more effective in revealing the unsupportable foundation of this unique cultural malady. I can hardly wait until cultural evolution allows future generations to laugh in wonder that humans ever actually felt or thought this way in the past. In the meantime, the fight continues. Color me pink with delight that, of all things, in the gruesome Trumpian dystopian era of hair-pulling social insanity, it is a Barbie movie that seems to most advance the social discourse in the Summer of 2023.
There’s either hope for us all, or at the very least, a few laughs on our way to the bottom.
This photo, by the way, is literally taken of the drive-in screen from behind my steering wheel. Viva la drive-in!