Editor’s note: This article includes spoilers.
Director Greta Gerwig’s Barbie wants to offer an aspirational portrait of womanhood available to every girl. Mattel’s wasp-waisted doll is a kaleidoscopic mirror. Don’t like what you see looking back at you? Spin the wheel, refocus the image, and surely amid the wide range of hairstyles, outfits, professions, and, as of 2016, body shapes, there must be a Barbie that’s made for you.
But the film culminates in a narrow vision of womanhood—what it means to be a woman is simply being a target of misogyny. It’s a tidy answer, but it’s profoundly dissatisfying, suggesting there’s nothing good in being a woman (or a man, for that matter).
The film begins with verve, in a hyperstylized Barbie Land run by Barbies of every complexion and profession. Margot Robbie stars as “Stereotypical” Barbie. She doesn’t have as clear a job as President Barbie or Doctor Barbie, but she’s who you picture when you think of a “Barbie.” In her world, women run the show, while the Kens are on the same order of being as outfits, cars, and other accessories.