To Greta Gerwig and her heavily longhoused life partner and cowriter Noah Baumbach, the feminist Longhouse is good, actually. It’s the only thing keeping men—and Ken—in their place. Greta and her doll-alter-ego are still, always, forever, fighting the mythological patriarchy from the privilege and safety of their Dreamhouses. She seems totally oblivious of the fact that in modern-day Hollywood, just like in Barbieland, girls rule. Men, and Kens, are firmly in the backseat. Ms. Gerwig and her girlboss sisterhood are riding high. Gerwig is the most in-demand writer of the last decade. And yet—she is also somehow the victim of the patriarchy. This movie is her great Airing of the Grievances.
Spoiler alert: Lots of spoilers abound in this review. Beware!
I walked out of the Barbie movie stunned and in disbelief. Hollywood darling Greta Gerwig, the scowling girlboss writer-director of this guaranteed smash-hit, has somehow made the first movie explicitly set inside the Longhouse.
And she did it totally by accident.
What a time to be alive!
The Longhouse Dreamhouse
If you are still confused about what the “longhouse” is, the Barbie movie is here to set you straight.
To Greta Gerwig and her heavily longhoused life partner and cowriter Noah Baumbach, the feminist Longhouse is good, actually. It’s the only thing keeping men—and Ken—in their place. Greta and her doll-alter-ego are still, always, forever, fighting the mythological patriarchy from the privilege and safety of their Dreamhouses.
She seems totally oblivious of the fact that in modern-day Hollywood, just like in Barbieland, girls rule. Men, and Kens, are firmly in the backseat. Ms. Gerwig and her girlboss sisterhood are riding high.
Gerwig is the most in-demand writer of the last decade. And yet—she is also somehow the victim of the patriarchy. This movie is her great Airing of the Grievances.
The script does briefly allude to the lie that men are still in charge with a throwaway joke midway through the movie. Ken, in the Real World, asks a businessman in a suit how he can get a job in an office. The businessman says something to the effect of, “Well, actually, being a man won’t help you anymore. Don’t worry—there’s still a patriarchy, but we just got better at hiding it.”
Ah yes, the invisible patriarchy, everywhere, always, just like systemic racism and midi-chlorians!
Ken, meanwhile, is already in the midst of his own crisis, but she’s oblivious to it. He’s an incel: programmed by his maker to be hopelessly in love with Barbie, but she’s friendzoned the poor guy for good.
He visits Barbie at her pink Dreamhouse (each Barbie has her own fabulous Dreamhouse; when she’s asked later where the Kens sleep she says “Oh, I have no idea!”) and asks to stay over. Is Ken homeless? “I want you to leave,” she says, emasculating him coldly. “It’s Girls Night tonight—and every night.”
Unhoused Ken gives her the ick, and the harder he simps to win her approval, the less she’s interested.
Fat Friend Barbie, Trans Lia Thomas Barbie, and the assorted Multiracial Sidekick Barbies send her to talk to Bipolar Barbie for help with her depression. Bipolar Barbie, who they call Weird Barbie, a very funny Kate MacKinnon, is a sort of butch Morpheus character who tells Barbie what happened: the child playing with her in the real world is suffering, which has opened up a rift between the two lands. Barbie has to go to the Real World, find the girl, and heal the rift in order to set things right.
Barbie takes the pink pill and heads off. In her pink Corvette, she sings along to the Indigo Girls, the famous lesbian indie band—a foretaste of what’s coming.
She lands in Los Angeles with Ken—on the Venice Beach Boardwalk. But this is not the real Boardwalk—there are no homeless people, no tents, no violent junkies, no hordes gathered around break dancing kids from Compton. Literally everyone they pass on the Boardwalk who ogles Barbie looks like a water polo frat boy from USC.
The only people who ogle Ken are two gay guys.
They roller blade over to a group of construction workers. “Hi, I’m Barbie,” she announces. “I don’t have a vagina! And this is Ken—he doesn’t have a penis. We have no genitals!”
Ken, humiliated, retorts “I have all my genitals.” (As I said, this is not a movie for little kids.)
I wonder if Barbie would say that about her trans Barbie sidekick, played by biological male Hari Nef. Does he have a penis or a vagina? The movie doesn’t say.
Ken Discovers the Patriarchy
Finally, he enters an office building and observes a group of businessmen. He mimics their manly gestures of authority, and he is amazed when one of them is rude to his female assistant.
Then he sees a montage of some commercials playing on a video monitor in the lobby. We see images of: Bill Clinton in front of an American flag, Ronald Reagan, Sly Stallone as Rocky and in a long fur coat, clip of men playing sports, the Marlboro Man commercials, and shots of Abraham Lincoln and George Washington’s portraits on paper money, a clip from Grease of “Greased Lightening.” Clip after clip of men acting like men. Ken is dazzled and has a revelation: in the real world, “men are in charge!”
What a lie. Greta Gerwig had to dig deep into the Best of the Eighties file to source those clips, since as we know, nothing like that exists on TV anymore. Ken doesn’t understand that he is going to have to “Retvrn” to see a world where men are still in charge. A more accurate montage of current era TV would actually look exactly like…Barbieland, where the Supreme Court is female, girls rule the world, and transgender women are women.
Barbie finds the girl who owns her at middle school. The girl, a sullen zoomer, accuses Barbie of setting the feminist movement back 50 years, and then calls Barbie “a fascist.”
Ken ducks into the school’s library and checks out a stack of books on how to be a man. I tried to scan the titles on the shelves to see if he was checking out Bronze Age Mindset. As edgy as Greta Gerwig thinks she is, she’s not edgy enough to do that.
He heads back to Barbieland to tell all the other Kens the good news: men are supposed to be in charge!
Barbieland becomes Kenworld, the manosphere—a wholesome version of Club Tropical Excellent, where men rule and its always Handsome Thursday. Footage of horses galloping plays on every television like porn. The Dreamhouses have been transformed into stereotypical man caves. Ken works out, he does pull ups, and he wears the Sly Stallone coat and no shirt. The Barbie dolls have been brainwashed into reverting to type: they are bimbos, Dallas Cowboy cheerleaders, and bar maids out of a pre-Dylan Mulvaney Bud Light commercial.
In one scene, a patriarchal Ken is forcing a Barbie to watch the Godfather and mansplaining Robert Evans to her.
In the next, a Ken is explaining to a Barbie what “Stephen Malkmus did for indie rock.” (Stephen Malkmus is the based lead singer of 90s band, Pavement).
Gen X jokes, I can’t resist!
For a movie that is a rebuttal to “bad” and archaic female stereotypes, it sure does reinforce a lot of “bad” male stereotypes! I’m surprised they didn’t include a moment of a Ken punching a Barbie in the face, or a Ken date-raping a Barbie.
This point may be lost on the filmmakers, however.
The fun sags while Barbie deals with her newfound depression and anxiety and self-hatred. She’s eaten the apple and now she just cries a lot. They even insert a “funny” Depressed Barbie toy commercial, where a crying Barbie gorges on food and binge watches the BBC version of Pride and Prejudice. Fun! Edgy!
The Barbies decide that the solution is to put the Kens back in their place and take Barbieland back.
Ken realizes he’s the oppressed one, trapped in a pink Longhouse he can never leave. He sings; “I’m just Ken—anywhere else I’d be a ten.”
The Pink Police State Comes for the Kens
Then they break into the pink Capitol Building—Insurrection Barbie! —to overthrow the government and rewrite the “Barbie constitution.”
Barbie, it turns out, is a fascist. The Kens are the good guys, and the Barbies, it turns out, are the villains.
The dolls even take back the Supreme Court (yes, there are scenes in the Barbie Supreme Court.) It’s a Roe v. Wade metaphor that lands like a ton of pink bricks.
I applaud Gerwig’s restraint for not introducing a Ruth Bader Ginsberg Barbie.
Ken’s story ends with Barbie telling him she doesn’t love him. The last time he sees Ken he has been clapped back into Longhouse chains and is sporting a rainbow-colored fleece with the words “I Am Kenough” on it.
The I Am Kenough hoodie on Mattel’s website is sold out!
Barbie Gets Her Happy Ending—and a Vagina
Her Blue Fairy takes the form of the ghost of Ruth Handler, inventor of the Barbie doll, in a blue suit.
The last scene is the newly human Barbie, in Santa Monica, wearing Birkenstocks instead of high heels, arriving at a doctor’s office. The receptionist asks her who she’s there to see. Barbie, now calling herself Barbara Handler, says with a gleeful smile, “My gynecologist!”
Cut, roll credits.
Gynocracy, take a bow!
In another accidentally based twist, what makes Barbie a woman is having a vagina—paging Matt Walsh!
In the sequel, Depo-Provera Barbie and her uparmored sterilized innards will be living her best life on Tinder, going to Burning Man, attending Planned Parenthood rallies and abortion marches.
All she’s missing in the end is her Mattel-branded pink pussy hat.
The Barbie movie has set the anti-feminist movement back 50 years.
So now we’re even.