In case you didn’t watch it, the trailer for Barbie says:
If you love Barbie, this movie is for you.
If you hate Barbie, this movie is for you.
Which does beg the question: what if you’re indifferent to Barbie?
It was the first thing that popped into my head when I saw it. And maybe that thought stuck with me.
My indifference meant that I had no yearning to watch the movie but, equally, if my partner wanted to see it, then I’d go along. When it comes to movie-going, I am generally open-minded. In an ideal world, I’ll go to the cinema at least once a week and, in those brief periods when my ideal world shows its face, I’m happy to try different things. Sometimes you get a nice surprise, sometimes you feel disappointed. It’s a bit like having kids, really…
Anyway, since I’m writing this post, you’ve probably guessed that my partner wanted to see Barbie. I’ll get to my thoughts on it in a moment, but it’s worth acknowledging that this film has been a big box office hit, one of the most successful movies of the summer. It also attracted a surprisingly strong cast. Then again, so did Caligula, with such luminaries as Malcolm McDowell, Peter O’Toole and Sir John Gielgud. Younger readers will have no idea what I’m talking about when I mention this film but, for those who were around to watch it in 1979, I suspect it’ll stick in the mind. For me personally, it holds the distinction of being the only movie I’ve walked out on in fifty-odd years of being a regular cinema-goer.
Oddly enough, there is a link between Caligula and Barbie in that Helen Mirren is in both – albeit unseen in the latter. Nevertheless, as the narrator, her presence in Barbie is one of the highlights. Frankly, I think she had some of the best lines.
So how was my experience of Barbie? Well, on the plus side, I didn’t walk out on it part way through. Then again, I didn’t walk out on XXX: Return of Xander Cage – and I doubt anyone would’ve blamed me for that. Even if I had been willing to leave my partner alone in the cinema, I was curious. And part of that curiosity was about what was driving the box office figures. I did keep waiting for the thing to happen that made this such an outstanding movie. Unfortunately, I was still waiting as the credits rolled.
I have heard people describe it as brilliant. I’ve heard people saying how much they loved it. When I went to see it, some of the audience had turned up in costume. Okay, it wasn’t The Rocky Horror Show so, of course, the theatre wasn’t going to be brimming with people dressed up – and nor were the costumes likely to be as outlandish. There were, instead, pink-clad young women dotted around the auditorium. Presumably, they fell into the ‘If you love Barbie’ camp and, if so, this movie was for them.
The publicity around the film’s release had, at the very least, hinted at a strong feminist message. And it was in there, though most obviously in a rousing speech from America Ferrera. I have to say that speech was excellent, delivered with passion, and a content I’d defy anyone to argue against. Unfortunately, I felt it jarred with the rest of the film. Not necessarily with the message, but the fact that it felt like a big gear-change following the preceding fluff.
For me, that was the film’s problem. Not that speech, particularly, but the overall construction of the film. It just didn’t seem to know what it was trying to be. Some who’ve read my book Ravens Gathering, would be quite justified in saying that I’ve got a nerve when that novel has also been accused of not slotting into a specific genre. I, too, have struggled to categorise it. Still, it does at least have a coherent story to it. Barbie is a mish-mash, not only in terms of picking a genre, but also in ticking the coherent storyline box.
I will concede that it was funny at times – I did laugh out loud on several occasions – but the humour was a mixed bag, ranging from a kind of fantasy-slapstick to some fourth wall breaking and even lines that put me in mind of Monty Python. There was more of the feminism than the speech I mentioned, but it felt neither strong enough, nor (if this doesn’t sound too weird) incidental enough.
Perhaps there were some in-jokes for the Barbie connoisseurs that I just didn’t get. Some people I know have said how funny ‘Alan’ was – presumably because they were already familiar with the Alan doll. Clearly my indifference to the Barbie phenomenon has left a gaping hole in my general knowledge.
Personally, I came away from the screening feeling disappointed. In spite of the afore-mentioned indifference, I realised afterwards that I had wanted to like the movie. At some level, I think I’d hoped it would surprise me in some way. I just hadn’t expected the surprise to be that the film didn’t really appear to know what it was trying to do or be.
Still, the box office take has been high enough to keep the studios happy. My guess is that there will be a sequel. My indifference has shifted slightly, but not far enough over to hating, so I doubt that one will be for me either.