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“Barbie”: Empowering Women in 2023

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Directed By: Greta Gerwig

Starring: Margot Robbie, Ryan Gosling, and America Ferrera

In 1959, Barbie dolls were first introduced to kids and were an instant success. Different from previous dolls that were babies and toddlers made for young girls to have a maternal approach to playing pretend, Barbie changed the game. Barbie could be anything from doctors, lawyers, astronauts, and so much more. She’s inspired generations of women to dream big, and achieve whatever they set their mind to. 

From dream houses to sports cars, Barbie has truly become a cultural phenomenon and Greta Gerwig’s take on the iconic doll and feminism is just what 2023 needed. 

Liz’s Film Analysis

The film follows Barbie in her perfect life in Barbie Land. Barbie Land is where all the Barbies and Kens live, party, and “beach”. Barbie begins to feel depressed and has irrepressible thoughts of death. Once she develops flat feet, another Barbie suggests she visits “Weird Barbie” for help. Weird Barbie explains that the child who is playing with her in the real world is also having these sad feelings. She shares how Barbie must venture through the time vortex to find the child who plays with her. 

For those who don’t know Greta Gerwig, she is one of the writers, along with Noah Baumbach, and the director of the film. She is most well known for her directing roles in “Lady Bird” and “Little Women”. Her feminine take on the film is noticed when she includes a montage of different women related to the cast and crew. The montage comes at a vulnerable moment for Barbie, but the women seen in the montage aren’t recognizable to the film which is a bit jarring to viewers.   In a recent interview, she explained that the meaning behind the montage, which some felt was out of place, was to pay tribute to the impactful women in the crew’s life, making some viewers enjoy its place in the film. 

Without giving too much away, “Barbie” is the warm embrace that viewers needed. It is incredibly real and relatable, especially for female audiences. Everything Barbie feels and experiences is an experience or feeling that young girls have gone through their entire lives. To finally have our voices showcased on the big screen is entirely refreshing and supportive. 

The role of Barbie was played by the phenomenal Margot Robbie who fully encapsulates Barbie as a whole. Her raw emotion is felt by audiences while she still keeps the humor and silliness of her role intact. She really portrays “Stereotypical Barbie” in a very special way. Robbie shares a message to audiences that everyone is unique and brings something different to the table, which is a message that society has been lacking.

Barbie’s Ken is played by Ryan Gosling who does an amazing job portraying Ken’s delusional personality. Gosling is completely unhinged as Ken and while he was an unexpected choice for audiences, he was the perfect Ken.

As far as the writing and dialogue of “Barbie”, the film takes a different approach. The film is narrated by Helen Mirren and the role of the narrator provides a lot of context for viewers. While a narrator role is not typical in films, it fits well here. The dialogue is incredibly silly and mimics a child who is playing with Barbies. All of the Barbies and Kens speak like children and are very real in their conversations. For example using the term “boyfriend girlfriend” to describe dating, referring to a Barbie as “weird Barbie”, and sporadic flash mobs. This makes the film very comedic.

The production design was also extraordinary. Warner Brothers’ use of practical sets made Barbie Land look like toys in itself. Every prop looks like a Barbie accessory and follows the film’s vibe perfectly. Barbie also uses very little CGI which is not typical in films today. This is a huge plus as practical sets and less CGI makes everything look and feel more real. All of the costuming is spot on to different Barbies for generations. Some iconic looks from the film include “Barbie’s Cowgirl Getup”, the pink jumpsuit, her pink gingham dress, and her retro skating outfit. These outfits are iconic in the film and are definitely going to steal the show this Halloween.

Grace’s Soundtrack Analysis

“Barbie” has been praised for its stellar cast, but the film’s star power doesn’t end there. Mark Ronson, known for his work with artists such as Lady Gaga and Bruno Mars, acted as the soundtrack’s executive producer. Although “Barbie” is not the musician’s first time working in film, Ronson was also tasked with scoring the film with collaborator Andrew Wyatt. The “Barbie” crew also employed George Drakoulias (“The Batman”, “Marriage Story”, etc.) as the music supervisor for the movie. 

The stunning soundtrack is a magnificent companion to the film’s visual palette. Dua Lipa’s “Dance the Night” was the first track conceived for the film. Drakoulias assigned Ronson to create a pop number perfect for a blow-out dance party. “I didn’t want to make the Barbie song too bubble-gummy or something that would have been really obvious,” Ronson told Billboard. “There’s a toughness to it.” The result is a groove track that takes inspiration from 70’s superstars. The disco influence on tracks like “Pink” and “Dance the Night” is no coincidence; when laying the basis for the film’s score, Gerwig approached Ronson with a playlist of songs that included the likes of the Bee Gees and Olivia Newton-John. 

“You know the Chicago (Disco Demolition) thing, where everyone burned their disco records, “Saturday Night Fever” had reached its apex and the poor Bee Gees were like, ‘All we wanted to do was make people dance! What did we do wrong?’ That’s Barbie,” Ronson told Associated Press.

Where Ronson’s talent shines the most is on the 80’s power-ballad “I’m Just Ken”. A demo with the line, “Is it my destiny to live and die a life of blond fragility?” was sent to Gerwig, and she liked it so much that it was immediately played for Ryan Gosling. He too was a fan of the demo, and was so moved by it that he requested to perform the song in the film. Gerwig approved and rewrote an important scene to accommodate his wish. The song balances the ridiculousness of the character with heartfelt lyrics, performed to perfection by Gosling. He sings the lines “I’m just Ken / Anywhere else I’d be a ten” with deadly seriousness, adding to the absurdity and campy nature of the scene it accompanies. 

Playing to Ronson’s musical knowledge, the soundtrack takes influence from many pop hits of years past. Charli XCX’s sugary “Speed Drive” samples the cheerleader staple “Mickey”, switching out the titular character’s name for “Barbie”. The allusion works better on this track than others (see: GAYLE’s metal rendition of Crazy Town’s “Butterfly”). 

However, the greatest remix comes in the form of “Barbie World” by Nicki Minaj and Ice Spice. On the track, the rap queen and prominent princess perform a drill–pop rendition of the infamous Aqua tune, “Barbie Girl”. For years, Mattel tried to separate their beloved IP from the 90’s earworm, going so far as to sue the band for trademark infringement, but over time, the company’s stance on the song has softened. The collaboration between “Barbie” and Nicki Minaj seemed inevitable: not only are fans of the artist called “Barbz”, but Minaj has a history of interpolating old hits into her music. On the track, Minaj and Ice Spice call back and forth, empowering each other and their other Barbies.

Prior to the album’s release, two mystery artists were set to feature on the soundtrack. The artists – dubbed “Mystery Barbie and Mystery Ken” – were revealed to be Billie Eilish and Sam Smith. Eilish’s “What Was I Made For?” comes at a pivotal point within the film. Currently sitting at over 5 million streams on Spotify, the song speaks to some of the darker aspects of girlhood, including loneliness and insecurity. Although devastating (as many of her songs tend to be), the song ends on a hopeful note: growing up is painful, but it’s part of a beautiful human experience.

“Barbie: the Album” amplifies the themes and aesthetics of the movie to the extreme. “Barbie: the Album (Best Weekend Ever Edition)” is a deluxe version that includes two additional songs: Gosling’s hilarious rendition of Matchbox 20’s “Push”, and Brandi Carlile’s cover of Indigo Girls’ “Closer to Fine”.

Ella’s Marketing Analysis

First of all, what brand has built a legacy as iconic as Barbie’s? The beloved doll’s success around the world and across generations was integral to the success of the film, and Gerwig capitalizing on the many iterations of Barbie naturally drew in viewers who wanted to see their childhood Barbies well represented on the big screen. 

Obviously Barbie’s illustrious careers and pink Dreamhouse have become mainstays in young girl’s toys over the years, and Mattel hopped right on the bandwagon by releasing dolls and accessories that make appearances in the film, like Barbie’s perfect day outfit, her cowgirl outfit she wears predominantly for the second half of the film, and other Barbies and Kens have found their way to store shelves. 

Besides toys, Warner Brothers stepped up their game with this campaign. Partnerships with brands like Cold Stone, XBOX, AirBNB, and even Google have Barbie-fied every aspect of everyday life in the weeks leading up to the film dropping in theaters. “Barbie” mania was inescapable, but it was welcomed in droves. Moviegoers flocked to the theaters in pink, glitter outfits, dressed in their Barbie best. 

What was most fascinating about the marketing campaign of “Barbie” wasn’t any of the corporate sponsorships, pink outfits, or even the doll itself. It was the cinema event of the summer, and possibly all year: Barbenheimer.

Barbenheimer is undoubtedly the biggest social media trend, event, day, you name it, of 2023. “Barbie” and “Oppenheimer”, Christopher Nolan’s 3-hour epic about scientist J. Robert Oppenheimer, were released in cinemas on the same day, July 21. The duality of the two films, along with the polar opposite intended audiences for each, attracted a plethora of memes and commentary about them. The cast and crew of both films leaned into it, expressing how vital it was that audiences showed up for two original films. Barbenheimer evolved from a competition, to a meme, to celebrating art and community, with people dressing up for either movie or seeing them back to back. 

And celebrate they did. “Barbie” grossed $155 million, while “Oppenheimer” rounded out at $80 million its opening weekend. For a total box office gross of about $230 million, Barbenheimer was viewed as an unparalleled success, as both films surged past expectations and predictions, and opened to near-unanimous acclaim, “Barbie” as a celebration of girlhood and Gerwig’s transition to big-time studio director, and “Oppenheimer” as Nolan’s masterpiece, and greatest film yet. 

“Barbie” shows no sign of slowing down. The film has crossed a “barbillion” dollars worldwide thanks not only to its all-inclusive marketing campaign, but also, the power of cinema. And pink.

   

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About the Contributors
Elizabeth Ippolito, Executive Producer: #THAT, Television Beat Reporter
Liz Ippolito is a Grad student studying Cinematic Production Management and recently graduated with her bachelors in TV, Film, and Media Arts with a Minor in Media Studies. She is from Oradell New Jersey and is returning for her second year as the Executive Producer on #THAT. Ippolito also serves as the Television beat reporter for the station.
Grace Doyle, Associate Producer: #THAT
Grace Doyle is a senior 3+1 film, television, and media arts major from Dedham, Massachusetts. She works as production assistant on campus and has interned with 7News WHDH-TV and Tuff Gong Worldwide. She is an Associate Producer on #THAT and has previously served as a Music and Television Beat Reporter for Q30TV.
Gabriella Madden, Web Director
Gabriella Madden is the Web Director for the 2023-2024 school year, as well as a third year 3+1 Film, Television, and Media Arts major and Journalism and Marketing double minor. She will be receiving her masters of journalism in 2025, and previously served as the Entertainment Industry beat reporter in the 2022-2023 school year. She is from Braintree, Massachusetts, and has done media related work from Flaunt Magazine, Quinnipiac IMC and Athletic Communications, to her local sheriff's office.

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