Doll Parts

We Sent a Ken to Review ‘Barbie’

The ‘Barbie‘ movie, directed by Greta Gerwig and written by Gerwig and Noah Baumbach, is finally out and I, as a Ken, could not be more excited, unless I was sitting on the beach looking longingly into Barbie’s eyes. I love that woman. The preview I attended had so many Barbies all in one place, it was like a sea of pink. They were mostly Influencer Barbies taking selfies and filming their bubbly reactions to the movie, which were all amazing. I mean, all Barbies are influencers, aren’t they?

The movie opens with an homage to Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (full admission, most Kens haven’t seen it, but I have seen Full Metal Jacket like six times, so I get the idea) where a bunch of homely girls play with their sad baby dolls and a 40-foot Barbie appears and they smash their dolls which apparently have ceramic heads which, when broken in shards, must have been really dangerous. Another win for my plastic princess, saving lives.

BARBIE★★★★ (4/5 stars)
Directed by: Greta Gerwig
Written by: Greta Gerwig, Noah Baumbach
Starring: Margot Robbie, Ryan Gosling, Will Ferrell, Kate McKinnon, Issa Rae, Michael Cera, Simu Liu, Kingsley Ben-Adir, Rhea Perlman, Dua Lipa, Helen Mirren 
Running time: 114 min

The movie then has a self-aware British voice-over by Her Majesty Helen Mirren explaining the world of Barbie and how it’s different from the real world. There are lots of colorful maps and pictures, which I liked. We see all the Barbies (Margot Robbie, Issa Rae, Kate McKinnon, Emma Mackey, Hari Nef, Nicola Coughlan, Dua Lipa, Alexandra Shipp, and I’m sure others) in their dream homes, doing their dream jobs like delivering mail, working construction, being President, and doing Supreme Court Justice. Costume designer Jacqueline Durran recreates some of the classic Barbie outfits and production designer Sarah Greenwood nails the look and feel of the Barbie’s of yesteryear, or so I’m told, I mostly played with G.I…uh, Hot Wheels (©Mattel).

Then comes the best part: the Kens! We see the main Ken (Ryan Gosling) looking just ab-tacular on the beach, as well as Ken (Simu Liu), Ken (Kingsley Ben-Adir), Ken (Scott Evans), Ken (Ncuti Gatwa), and even a hilarious cameo of Ken (John Cena) who is just in everything these days.

The plot is pretty convoluted, so try to follow. Barbie starts freaking out because she is having sad thoughts about death and celluloid or something, so to figure out why she drives to the real world because Weird Barbie (McKinnon) tells her she needs to go using a Birkenstock which is an obvious nod to The Matrix, which I’ve seen like 15 times. No spoilers, it was in the trailer. So cool.

Ken (Gosling) sneaks along and when they get to the real world they go rollerblading and, wow, are they shocked that it’s the opposite of Barbie Land. Men are in charge instead of women, like the Mattel CEO (Will Ferrell), and Ken gets all excited about the patriarchy which seems to be about cool horses. Barbie gets on Mattel’s radar somehow and they hunt her down because her presence upsets the space-time fabric or something.

Along the way, Barbie meets this nice mom (America Ferrera) and her daughter (Ariana Greenblatt) and decide to bring them to Barbie Land, because this is a movie and that is what happens. It also provides the writers a chance for a few self-aware monologues about the challenges of being a woman and how damaging Barbie is for the self-image of girls, and stuff. But you know they don’t really believe it because they all secretly love Barbie, I mean who doesn’t, right?

Ken brings his new knowledge back to Barbie Land, takes over, and the Kens rule things turning dream houses into sick man caves, which is pretty sweet. The women go from being doctors and stuff to just bringing men beer. There’s more at the end, with the Barbies planning to take back Barbie Land, but that all kind of bored me. I yawned a couple times and forgot what happened.

The best part of the movie, though, was all the dancing. The Kens really brought it, and even get some radical songs in there including the banger “I’m Just Ken” which Ryan Gosling sang all by himself. Just give this guy the Nobel Prize, I mean is there anything he can’t do?

Also, actor Michael Cera plays Alan, which seems like he didn’t even need to act at all. It is clear why they discontinued this Barbie character. There are lots of these “Easter egg” moments that made all the Barbie’s in the audience say “Ooooh”. It was nice seeing Rhea Perlman, Carla from Cheers, appear as Barbie founder Ruth Handler who, according to the jokes in the movie, was guilty of tax evasion, which is hilarious and made all the Barbies next to me laugh.

For people who think they hate Barbie, I don’t know what to say. You might be moved by the enormous effort and outstanding craft that Gerwig deployed in creating an entire Barbie universe. You may appreciate the clever writing which is full of self-referential and self-deprecating humor, the smart satire of male-dominated society, the character development of two-dimensional dolls to fully-realized multi-faced women, and the fun adventurous spirit of a protagonist whose innocence and curiosity leads her on a fulfilling quest for self-knowledge and self-realization.

Or, like me, you may just love all the hot looking people, perfectly choreographed dance numbers, and banging tunes. It’s a battle of the sexes and Barbie wins.

But what do I know? I’m just Ken.


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Josh Flanders

Josh Flanders is a writer, producer, and actor whose work has been featured in The Chicago Reader, The Forward, and other publications. He is in production of a documentary feature with Kartemquin Films and balances that serious work with being seriously silly on stage doing comedy in Chicago.

One thought on “Doll Parts

  • July 23, 2023 at 3:34 pm

    Great review. Serious question. Was there a trans Barbie or trans Ken in Barbie world? If not given the whole mood of the exercise there should have been. Further, has Mattel developed a trans Barbie or trans Ken in our world? I imagine the ensuing cultural conflagration would resemble the end of Oppenheimer.


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