Barbie movie: Wallace Baine and two high schoolers on how the iconic American doll resonates across generations
One is back on the Barbie bandwagon after abandoning a girlhood favorite. One knew Barbie only from the toy store. One tripped over Barbies while raising two daughters. Now, with “Barbie” taking theaters and social media by storm, Izzy Brandon and Henry Bellevin, both 16, and Wallace Baine (slightly older than 16), put the summer blockbuster under a microscope.
The new film “Barbie” arrived triumphantly in the pop-culture world this weekend with all the subtlety of an explosion at a bubble-gum factory, covering the mediasphere in gloppy pink sweetness. Santa Cruz County was not, of course, immune from the “Barbie” mass madness as many pink-clad fans swarmed into local theaters, each with a distinctive blend of sincere/ironic appreciation for what has been maybe the most famous toy of the past century.
Refugees from what used to be a fertile art-house cinema culture in town might have, once upon a time, bet a sizable wager that the glorious old Del Mar Theater would never stoop to presenting essentially a feature-length Mattel infomercial for — of all the unholy things under the sun — Barbie. But that’s exactly where I saw the movie, willingly and gleefully, I should add.
In fact, the overall positive response to “Barbie” has been remarkable, not only the critical reactions, but just the fact the movie exists at all. All that historical ambivalence about Barbie seems to have dissipated like the morning fog over Malibu. When I first heard about the film, way back in the fall of 2022, my first thought was that it might as well be Satan’s end-zone dance, the last bitter triumph of grotesque commercialism over a dumbed-down world.
Readers, I was wrong. Instead of the death of irony, “Barbie” turns out to be a celebration of it, thanks largely to Sacramento-born-and-raised auteur Greta Gerwig, who directed and co-wrote the film with her husband, Noah Baumbach. Gerwig’s clever grasp of the world that Barbie created and what she means to real girls and women reckons with Barbie’s enormous influence honestly and insightfully — for the most part.
To get a better grasp of this pop-culture behemoth, we invited a couple of our Lookout teen interns to share their takes on the film in the afterglow of just having watched it. Izzy Brandon, 16, was a big Barbie fan as a girl, though, much like the teen girl in the film, rejected Barbie as she approached adolescence. For Izzy, though, Barbie-mania has reblossomed with the film’s release. Henry Bellevin, 16, as a boy grew up largely indifferent to Barbie but still managed to show up to the film’s opening day in pink pants, with plans to see the film again the next day. And me, I’m an antiquity, nearly as old as the anatomically impossible doll herself, whose personal experience with Barbie is limited to tiny twisted bodies I had to step over in a house where I raised two daughters.
Here’s a bit of our discussion after seeing the movie on its opening day. It’s been edited for length and clarity.
Baine: Izzy, what’s your Barbie story?
Izzy: I love Barbie. My mom bought me all of them. My first doll — I got her when I was 5 — she was Raquelle, from “Barbie: Life in the Dreamhouse.” She was my favorite character. She had this cheetah skirt. I couldn’t afford a Barbie Dreamhouse, so I had to make my own with cardboard boxes. I made all the toys myself with paper because I couldn’t buy them. The first actual Barbie [accessory] I got was the Barbie car, which I loved.
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My actual first Barbie Barbie was a soccer-playing Barbie. She had a pink uniform with pink cleats and a pink soccer ball. I made my own soccer field out of cardboard. It was so fun, but I felt like I never had a Black doll, which is weird to think about. Then I saw one at Disney, it was a Princess Tiana doll. And I loved her. Then [in the movie], there was the Barbie president and she was a Black Barbie. And I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, there was someone who looked like me.’ When they came out with the Black soccer Barbie, I was obsessed with it. I begged my mom to buy it. She said, “No,” and I cried for days after that. But I got it eventually. I still have about five Barbies.
Baine: Did you “graduate” from Barbie at some point?
Izzy: Yeah, I became a Monster High girl [around 11], which was life-changing. I felt like Barbie was too childish. I wanted people with real fashion and not just pink clothes.
Baine: But you’ve come back to Barbie?
Izzy: Yeah, I used to hate pink. And now, I’m like, give me all the pink you have.
Baine: Henry, did you know much about Barbie growing up? Did you have sisters?
Henry: No, just a brother. I mean, I had Star Wars things, but I thought of dolls as collectibles. I had never seen anything like Barbie, except maybe in a toy store.
Baine: So there were probably some references in the movie you didn’t get?
Henry: Yeah, I definitely didn’t get a lot of what other people were reacting to. I was just kind of sitting there, going, “What’s going on?”
Baine: But you were eager to see the movie anyway.
Henry: Because it’s very popular. And my mom likes it. There’s just so much hype around “Barbie,” I was like, “I have to see this.” I gotta know, because I don’t ever want to be in the dark.
Baine: So tell me your impressions of the movie.
Henry: I loved it. It was hilarious but also very serious at the same time. It cut a lot between being really, really funny to serious messages about the state of the world, especially what it’s like to be a woman.
Izzy: I felt like it was really good to see the reverse patriarchy — if women ran the world instead of men. Because that was basically what was going on [in the movie].
Baine: As someone who knows the Barbie universe, did they portray it fully?
Izzy: It was pretty spot-on. I just think they forgot Chelsea, Barbie’s little sister. You saw Skipper and Stacie, but you didn’t see Chelsea.
Baine: Were you convinced that whoever made this film had Barbies growing up?
Henry: Yeah, I think one of the things that was so really fun was that the Barbies all did toy things instead of human things. They would, like, fake drink out of a cup, but nothing came out of it, and they didn’t really drink anything. When they kissed, they didn’t even touch heads, just kinda leaned their heads in toward each other, just like if you were playing with a Barbie.
Izzy: As I got older, I started acting out with my Barbies. I would pull them apart. I wasn’t a violent child, but I liked pulling my Barbies apart. Because I realized [imitating her younger self], I hate Barbies because they’re so sexist. And there’s this one girl in the movie who also used to love Barbies but now hates them and realizes that Barbies are not good.
Baine: Because their bodies are so disproportionate?
Izzy: Yeah, also the fact that they are always in high heels, never in flat shoes. And that’s part of the movie too. And the clothes they wear, too, always dresses, always accessories, when sometimes you just want to wear normal clothes, very hyper-feminine.
Baine: Yeah, I guess that can be fun sometimes, but it can be a real drag sometimes too, right?
Izzy: Yeah, now that I’m older, I recognize that being hyper-feminine is OK. But when you’re [a younger teen], you just emo about it all, for some reason: “I hate this girly stuff.” I recognize now that hyper-femininity is really cool. It’s OK to be that. You can enjoy just being a girl. But when you’re younger and just relating to the world, you want to be normal and not stand out and just be part of society. So you try to fit in with the patriarchy rather than embracing your girly side.