Barbie is a summertime Christmas movie

It's warm and fuzzy and ties every loose end up in a neat bow. Sounds like Santa came early...

So, there we go. The marketing juggernaut that is Barbie has landed.

The suspense, the excitement, the drip-feed of teasers and trailers and clips, the global press tour, the brand tie-ins, the memes, it’s all been leading up to this – to these pink, plastic, potentially fantastic 108 minutes. Now, everyone can just go and watch the movie, from start to finish, and see what the months-long fuss has all been about.

Now, all the content, and all the discourse, can stop.

We should be so lucky. Since the press embargo lifted on Wednesday, another juggernaut has kicked into gear: the Hot Takes machine. And, just as Mattel’s doll now comes in 175 different body shapes, hair colours, ethnicities and abilities, all under the money-spinning Barbie moniker (Astronaut Barbie, Air Force Pilot Barbie, Curvy Barbie, Native American Barbie, Computer Engineer Barbie, even Ava DuVernay Barbie, to name a few), there is already a veritable array of opinions about the money-spinning Barbie movie.

There’s Greta Gerwig is a genius” Barbie, and Greta Gerwig is a sell-out” Barbie. There’s feminist film” Barbie, and two-hour advert for an American multinational toy manufacturing and entertainment company” Barbie. Subversive take on modern womanhood and the patriarchy” Barbie, shallow, banal and non-committal” Barbie, really fun” Barbie, and fine, I guess” Barbie. Take your pick!

When I first saw the trailer for Barbie, I thought I knew what my contribution to said discourse would be. It would dive into the split between Barbieland and the real world, considering contemporary portrayals of fake worlds” and artificiality on screen, and it would run under the headline: Is Barbie this generation’s Matrix?”

But then I watched the film, and rapidly realised that the only honest answer to that question would be no ❤️”. Barbie is not The Matrix in pinkscale, or The Truman Show (except perhaps in the sense that Gerwig has been adopted by a corporation – but in her case, the media puppetry was entered into willingly, in exchange for a few million dollars). In some senses, Barbie is akin to Don’t Worry Darling (stylised yet ultimately shallow pop feminism, starring a sexy incel-adjacent dude representing masculinity in crisis). But, really, the movie Barbie spiritually resembles most is Elf.

So, here’s the actual hot take: Barbie is a summertime Christmas movie.

In cinemas, at Christmas, sentimentality reigns supreme. The point of a Christmas movie is to be vivid, glittering and to leave you with a warm glow inside. Christmas movies are about Human Emotions, but in a way that doesn’t really ruffle too many feathers. Whack it on with your little brother, and your grandparents, and that aunt you see once a year. There’s something in it for everybody. And, while it might be hot outside, and while the film might feature Beach more than Snow, this is what Barbie is, and what it was always going to be.

Mattel wanted a summer blockbuster to kick off its new wave of brand-extension movies,” The New York Times declared in their introduction to a pre-release interview with Gerwig. She wanted it to be a work of art.” Many people, myself included, latched onto that last bit. And indeed, many early reviewers have declared how smart”, subversive”, feminist” and political” the movie is.

But really, it’s an entertaining romp, with a neat little ending. It’s got sad bits and fun bits and silly bits and bits that might make your mum cry. It is a vivid, glittery blockbuster that wants you to leave the cinema with a warm, fuzzy glow inside.

The Barbie movie seems to suggest the fundamental condition of womanhood is having cellulite, and crying, and going to the gynaecologist”

The movie starts in Barbieland, where every day is great and everything is perfect.

And within that is relentless positivity and good cheer and feeling amazing about oneself, 100 per cent of the time, and feeling amazing that other people feel amazing,” Gerwig said in an interview with the Sydney Morning Herald. Which seems like a tremendous thing. Most people don’t feel amazing all the time.”

Ultimately, if there is any prevailing message to the movie, this is it. In the real world, people don’t feel amazing all the time, no one is perfect, everyone has flaws, we’re all going to die. And, in the refrain of all Christmas movies, that’s what makes life beautiful. It’s what makes life worth living. So, feel your feelings, embrace your flaws.

If I was being critical, I would say this embrace your flaws” message often tips into the banal, and that the Barbie movie seems to suggest the fundamental condition of womanhood is having cellulite, and crying, and going to the gynaecologist. There is a scene, for example, where America Ferrera’s character suggests Mattel produces Ordinary Barbie, to let little girls know they actually don’t have to be President, or an astronaut, or an Olympic skier. If they can just get through the day, that’s fine.

But, the point of a summertime Christmas movie is not to be critical. It’s to have fun, and not think too much. Really, my problems with Barbie, the Mattel-produced movie, are my problems with America, and capitalism, and white liberal feminism. So, the joke is on me. Of course Barbie wasn’t going to be either The Matrix or Frances Ha in pinkscale. It was always going to be a big summer blockbuster, with a palatable dollop of pop existentialism and pop feminism thrown in for the Gerwig girlies, but enough campy pink outfits and dance routines and fuzzy sentimentality to keep everyone else happy.

Why couldn’t she make a movie that would delight Barbie’s protective corporate guardians at Mattel, the people at Warner Brothers who bankrolled the roughly $145 million production, the people who hate Barbie, the people who adore Barbie and also herself,” The New York Times wrote of Gerwig’s decision to take on Barbie. As the movie’s tagline declared: If you love Barbie, this movie is for you. If you hate Barbie, this movie is for you.” Mattel and Gerwig are on the same page. Barbie is for everyone.

More than 100 Barbie dolls are sold every minute. There are over 18 billion minutes of Barbie user-generated content created each year. Gerwig’s 108 minutes are just a drop in the ocean. So, go to the movies. Eat Barbie branded popcorn, maybe grab a rosé. Just like at Christmas time, push the onslaught of marketing and relentless commercialisation out of your mind, and let the fun and the silliness and the sentimental spirit wash over you.

Come on Barbie, let’s go party. If we can all just get through the day, isn’t that fine?

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