Barbie ★★★★

This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.

This review may contain spoilers.

The Barbie Resurrections. A film in war with itself and a film about a brand in war with itself, an iconoclastic indictment of corporate filmmaking deeply anxious about the hollowness of its false liberation. Also: fun! Jokes! Neat production design! Cool musical numbers! Deep Barbie lore! Allan!

Barbieland is a bogus utopia of pop-feminism built on a childlike understanding of gender and the world, an alternate social ecosystem so simplified and sanitized that yelling slogans is all it takes to change someone's worldview back and forth – in the not-even-nominally happy ending, it returns to a status quo very literally presented as a mirror image of our own society. Some of the film's best moments mine this deep imperfection for both comedy and existential dread, while some of its less successful (like Ken's and Weird Barbie's arcs) gesture towards sincerity. It is definitely not a circle the movie is able to square; its only effective moment of emotional transcendence is the ending.

Stereotypical Barbie's self-actualization takes the form of a reverse-Gnostic escape (from the ideal to the material, very sharply depicted by the final stinger; the absence of sex, sexuality, and bodiliness may be the primary way in which Barbieland is sanitized) to the real world with all of its complexities. But what this entails in practice is not and cannot be portrayed by the film, since the very framework of toy commercial filmmaking and the Barbie brand are what is being escaped from. Hypothetical catharsis, somewhere off-screen over there, is all it has to offer.

Is it the most obvious "go touch grass" ending since Neon Genesis Evangelion? Well, yeah, and the whole affair is so deeply cynical and self-defeating that I cannot blame anyone for not being into it. Barbie is certainly a film most comfortable being a comedy and deeply troubled in being about anything else, only able to grasp meaning in its meaninglessness.

But at the same time... in the age of big-budget filmmaking based on brands and intellectual properties mostly abandoning irony and retreating back to sincerity in hopes of selling itself with promises of importance and representation, Barbie feels refreshingly honest. Honesty is not meaning, and honesty is not liberation, but it's at least honesty.

The fact that this is enough for me may say more about the low, low expectations I have for this kind of thing in general, but I cannot lie: I had a good time, and Allan was there, which is more than a lot of movies can say.

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