Why Men Should Run, Not Walk, To See Barbie

Thor Benander
Thor Benander is the Editor-in-Chief of The Antagonist and a father of four. He’s a lover of ancient history, Greek food, and sports. He loves to travel and thinks that if libraries were the center of American society, many things would improve overnight. You can hit him up at hilordcastleton@gmail.com.

This article was written during the 2023 WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes. Without the labor of the writers and actors currently on strike, the movie being covered here wouldn’t exist.

I took my 13-year-old son and his two best friends to see Barbie on opening weekend. It was easy. They got caught up in the whole gestalt of the event and wanted to go.

My experience was similar to Laura’s. Sold out house. People dressed in pink everywhere. It was exhilarating, and brought me back to a time when movies felt more important than they do today. Part of that has to do with the endless reboot/MCU/tentpole fare and part of it has to do with a sense that, once upon a time, films could have actual impact. It used to be baked in. But, for Barbie, the crowd was fired up. You could feel it.

Then we got this trailer for what appears to be the lamest retread money-grab in film history.

People actually laughed at the name. Much like the incessant Fox News ads during the Women’s World Cup, where it’s like: “bruh, read the room” the final reveal of “The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes” was so overly self-important that the audience jeered.

Because we were there for Barbie. Whatever that means.

I’m going to leave the bulk of the reviews to others, but I wanted to weigh in on the experience of seeing Barbie through the eyes of a man: it felt important.

Some of you listen to my Deep Dive Podcast on Ted Lasso, and the reason we gravitated to that show in the first place was that we saw avatars of men who were trying to be better. Who were trying to be more aware of the world around them and the systemic inequalities that benefit them at the expense of others.

Greta Gerwig’s Barbie feels like that. It’s sort of crazy and sort of non-linear, but not in a Hunter S. Thompson acid trip kind of way. I had a very similar reaction to Everything Everywhere All At Once: that we had transcended the shackles of genre and seen something sublime and marvelous.

I don’t think Barbie splits the atom. That’s not the draw. What Barbie does is explain the atom. It highlights the atom so that everyone can see what it is and it helps us effortlessly agree on it. I’m avoiding spoilers at all costs, but broadly: choices around Ken’s introduction and position in Barbie’s world made all the difference. Barbie brilliantly chooses to be illustrative without pandering or being condescending. The way nights are structured in the opening really hammers home points about how nights are structured in the denouement. It’s easy. It’s obvious. And that simplicity of focus is one of the film’s great strengths, even as it’s cloaked in wackiness.

I could wax poetic about the performances as well. Everyone was note perfect. Margot Robbie could not have done a single thing better. I’ve never seen a better and more nuanced performance from Ryan Gosling and that dude looked like he was having the time of his life. (Don’t @ me, Drive fans. He was better in this.) Everyone was top notch, from Will Ferrell to Helen Mirren to Kate McKinnon and Michael Cera. Issa Rae was magnetic. America Ferrera delivered the film’s most honest, moving speech and it was flawless. Ariana Greenblatt held serve with actors who had far more experience than her. They were all outstanding. Michael Cera did more with less than I’ve ever seen him do, and that’s saying something considering that he played the mealy-mouthed George Michael in Arrested Development. Also, I liked Simu Liu before this film, but now I want him in all the things – especially the funny things. All the Kens were perfect, frankly. I never in a million years thought of Kingsley Ben-Adir as a Ken and now I’ll never forget it. All in all, Greta Gerwig’s vision was a sight to behold.

I can’t pontificate about what Barbie does for women, but it’s a necessary cultural commentary that every aspiring-to-be-evolved man and boy should see. I know it will fall flat for your typical all-American troglodyte. But for anyone with even a moderately open mind, Barbie is a confirmation that we’ve gotten wildly off track as a people and as a civilization, and it’s time to course-correct.

Barbie was a borderline masterpiece and I still have a smile on my face from it. Maybe it’s all the beautiful people. Maybe it’s just the pink, but if that’s the way pink makes you feel, I’m going to get some more of it.

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