Barbie day is fast approaching, and all available evidence suggests this movie could heal our weary bimbo souls. Directed by Greta Gerwig, it has an official release date of July 21. So for the next month, Barbie is everything and everything is Barbie.
In the first trailer, which was released in December, it became clear just how expansive this toy-to-screen adaptation would be. There was a brief history lesson on doll evolution, a glimpse at Barbie Land, and what appeared to be several choreographed dance numbers.
Two more trailers arrived this spring, offering further insight into all there is to love about Barbie. And boy is there a lot to love. Without spoiling too much, they include: multiple close-ups of Barbie’s feet, examples of Ken’s horrible flirting, and an incredible collection of doll-friendly resortwear. There’s a lot more footage of Barbie Land, which looks a little like Don’t Worry Darling but with the exact opposite energy. Barbie Land is a utopia bathed in artificial sun, a never-ending beach, a giant heart-shaped expanse of land where sadness goes to die. I’m livid that I don’t live here.
Until some enterprising young girlboss builds a real-life Barbie Land, we will have to settle for watching the movie. Here’s what we know so far.
What’s the plot of Barbie?
While this movie could have absolutely zero story and still be a smash hit in my book, it does seem to have a pretty compelling arc. According to the movie description on Apple:
To live in Barbie Land is to be a perfect being in a perfect place. Unless you have a full-on existential crisis. Or you’re a Ken.
… Which helps establish the general vibe and thesis statement of the movie, but not the plot, though a Vogue profile of Robbie did expound a bit more on said existential crisis. Here’s a more descriptive summary from Letterboxd:
After being expelled from “Barbieland” for being a less-than-perfect doll, Barbie sets off for the human world to find true happiness.
The newest trailer does more heavy lifting in terms of laying out the plot. The existential crisis, it seems, is that Barbie starts to question the perfectness of the little Barbie bubble (perhaps she’ll wonder why all her friends have the same name as her?), at which point her world starts to disintegrate and her feet — disaster! — suddenly become flat. To figure out what’s going on, she must red-pill herself into the real world (namely by putting on a pair of Birkenstocks) and process the fact that she is a doll. Ken tags along, because he’s Ken. There, they encounter misogyny, jail, high-school mean girls, and some well-meaning Mattel execs who want to put Barbie back in her box. Antics ensue!
What is the philosophy of Barbie?
Six months ago, I would have laughed at this question, but now, I’m so glad you asked. Several interviews suggest Gerwig drew on a dizzying cocktail of advanced metaphysics, psychology of self, and feminist theory to craft the perfect Barbie story. Speaking of mixed drinks, Gerwig has described the movie as a “surprising spicy margarita” — an excellent drink that I can’t wait to sneak into the movie theater.
To begin her Barbie journey, Gerwig and her writing and life partner Noah Baumbach got a history lesson on Barbie and a tour of Mattel’s HQ, during which this revelation came to her:
All of the dolls are [named] Barbie. All of them are Barbie, and Barbie is everywhere. Philosophically, I was, like, Well, now that’s interesting.
For Gerwig, this multiplicity of Barbie evokes an “expansive idea of self that we could all learn from.” Indeed.
As such, her script-writing process involved writing a “super abstract poem” that resembled the Apostles’ Creed. She briefly went biblical, ruminating on the fact that Ken was created after and specifically in service of Barbie, a sort of reverse Adam and Eve. And as the movie’s costume designer, Jacqueline Durran, explained to Vogue, Gerwig’s vision for Barbie grew from the idea that she was the first doll offered to girls “who had agency and did things, rather than a baby.”
Even the thinking behind Barbie’s style reads like the thesis statement of a Ph.D. in doll studies. Because every Barbie comes dressed for whatever profession or activity she’s taking on, “the motivation for what she’s wearing isn’t from within,” Durran noted. It is external, predestined, imbued with a greater purpose and defined by its role as a cog in the Barbie-world machine. It’s also, per Durran, “about being completely dressed for your job or task.” I can feel my brain expanding inside its skull prison already.
Not that we care what the real-life Mattel suits thought about Gerwig’s mind-blowing vision for Barbie theory, but in case you were wondering, they did get onboard — eventually. According to a Time interview, Robbie Brenner, producer of Mattel Films, told the company’s execs they would have to “white-knuckle it” during production, and there were concerns that certain scenes were off-brand. At one point, Gerwig and Margot Robbie had to act out a full scene for Mattel’s president, who had flown to London to argue for its removal. Brenner called Barbie “not a feminist movie,” a comment that reportedly caused Margot Robbie to raise an eyebrow and ask, “Who said that?” Discord in the Malibu Dream House!
Who’s in Barbie?
An astounding horde of talented entertainers parading around in tiny shorts, denim vests, and sequins. Just ahead of the second trailer drop, Warner Bros. shared posters for each and every one of them, which turns out to be a pretty helpful guide to navigating this sea of familiar faces. To help process the chaos, I’ve sorted the roles into Barbies, Kens, friends, and humans.
Barbies. As far as we know, there are 11 versions of the titular role, all named Barbie. Each of them got their own poster that lists their defining trait:
- Ritu Arya (has a Pulitzer)
- Ana Cruz Kayne (Supreme Court Justice)
- Dua Lipa (mermaid)
- Kate McKinnon (does the splits)
- Emma Mackey (Nobel Prize in physics)
- Hari Nef (doctor)
- Sharon Rooney (lawyer)
- Alexandra Shipp (celebrated author)
- Nicola Coughlan (diplomat)
- Issa Rae (president)
- Margot Robbie (The main Barbie. According to her poster, “Barbie is everything.” Correct.)
Kens. Absolutely no info is given on the five Kens beyond the fact that they are Kens. Frankly, no further info is needed.
- Scott Evans
- Kingsley Ben-Adir
- Ncuti Gatwa
- Simu Liu
- Ryan Gosling
Best friends. I didn’t know Barbie and Ken had friends with different names, but they are played by arguably the most intriguing members of the cast:
- Michael Cera (Allan, Ken’s best friend)
- Emerald Fennell (Midge, Barbie’s best friend)
Humans. Apparently a handful of Barbie’s characters are real-world people born and raised outside Barbie Land (sad!). Given all the corporate attire, it feels fair to assume that most of them are executives at Mattel.
- Connor Swindells (intern)
- Jamie Demetriou (a suit)
- America Ferrera (human)
- Ariana Greenblatt (another human)
- Will Ferrell (described only as “mother,” but probably the CEO of Mattel)
- Helen Mirren (narrator)
There are several standout cast members who didn’t get the poster treatment but will nonetheless make an appearance: Marisa Abuela, Rhea Perlman, and John Cena.
How did all those famouses prepare to Barbie?
Vogue’s profile offered some incredible detail about just how the Barbie magic came together. To execute her philosophical vision, Gerwig created what is basically a cross between Camp Barbie and Barbie University. She sent Robbie a podcast about a “woman who doesn’t introspect” to help her get a grasp of Barbie’s brain. Before filming, she threw a fancy hotel slumber party for all the Barbies where the Kens were allowed to stop by but not sleep over, clarifying for all who play Ken what their place in the Barbieverse would be. Perhaps sensing this, in lieu of his own person, Gosling sent a kilted Scotsman to play bagpipes and recite a Braveheart monologue.
From that point on, the whole cast and crew started going to “movie church,” a weekly Sunday-morning screening of movies that inspired Barbie. Their curriculum included The Red Shoes and The Umbrellas of Cherbourg. Other cultural touch points Gerwig and her cohorts have mentioned while discussing what inspired Barbie’s world include but are not limited to:
Meanwhile, on a much more tangible level, Gosling claims to have waxed his body to emulate Ken’s smooth plasticity. Also assisting him in his efforts to become one with Ken: Robbie left little surfing-themed gifts for him every day during production, which helped him understand and embrace the notion that Ken’s job, per Gosling, is “just beach.”
What exactly is Ken’s deal?
Ken is a mere simulacrum of a person, an empty vessel in the shape of a denim vest, a man whose job is, again, “just beach.” Per Gerwig, he has no house, no car, no job, and no power. The only thing he does have, according to Barbie costume designer Jacqueline Durran, is Ken-branded underwear. This total lack of purpose, Gerwig says, eventually becomes “sort of unsustainable” in the movie.
No one has understood a character better than Gosling understands Ken, which is to say he has that Kenergy. (He has said this many times.) Actually, Gosling has claimed to dislike even talking about Ken because, as he told Vogue, “It would be very un-Ken of me to talk about Ken.” Still, he can’t help but revel in his utter Kenness, having declared at CinemaCon that Gerwig and Robbie “conjured this out of me” and that the Kenergy “came on like a scarlet fever.” In a GQ cover story, Gosling referred to himself as Ken’s “representative” and cited a singularly inspiring story about seeing a Ken doll around the house (he has two young kids) that spurred him to play a plastic man. “I did see him, like, face down in the mud outside one day, next to a squished lemon,” he said. “And it was like, This guy’s story does need to be told, you know?” Hmmm, yes, I think I do know!
As Ken’s self-proclaimed spokesperson, Gosling talks about the character with a sort of circular logic that actually makes perfect sense to me, a human woman. For example: “If you ever really cared about Ken, you would know that nobody cared about Ken.” True. Also, he argues, if you’re pretending to care about who plays Ken, “your hypocrisy is exposed. This is why his story must be told.” Yes!! Absolutely! What acting school can teach me to think like this?!
Anyway, Gosling has so thoroughly inhabited Ken’s form, so completely embodied his essential spirit, that he now feels equipped to advise others on the transformation. “It’s there the whole time,” he recently told a reporter in Toronto (“Kenada”), who asked how those outside of Barbie Land could harness their “Kenergy.” “You’ve got it so strong, I can feel it right now. Look no further; you are Kenough.” Gosling provided no specific instructions, but did inform the journalist that Kenergy is “all around” us, like WiFi: “It’s there, but you don’t know how it’s really there. I don’t.” Fascinating, if not illuminating.
Further evidence of the sheer strength of the Kenergy Gosling brought to the project: On set, Gerwig nicknamed two of the male producers, one of whom is Robbie’s husband, Ken David and Ken Tom.
Tell me more about Barbie Land.
While I understand that Barbie Land will probably represent the unachievable standards set by evil Mattel suits, I still want to live there. There’s an airport and a pristine public beach. The sky and mountains are, of course, not real, just a blissful hand-painted backdrop to offer the illusion of nature without the drawbacks of climate change, rain, and the like. Barbie Land contains literally all the pink in the world — several outlets have reported that Barbie’s set designers used up all of Rosco’s pink-paint supply, contributing to a global shortage. Given that there are Supreme Court justice, diplomat, and president Barbies, Barbie Land’s political structure seems both functional and robust. The main street features a candy store, a movie theater, and a hair salon called Perfect Hair. What more could I possibly need?
Barbie Land has some covetable real estate. The movie’s version of Barbie’s Dreamhouse is, in the words of its designer, “very definitely a house for a single woman,” which sounds ideal to me. It features a swimming pool in the living room, which you can enter via a two-story spiral slide. There are no walls, meaning every actor who filmed scenes in the Dream House had to be attached to string so as not to fall off the second story. It’s apparently scaled to 23 percent smaller than human size, to make things feel all the more surreal and doll-like. Actually, everything in Barbie Land, including Barbie’s car, is 23 percent smaller than it should be, based on a special formula the set designers created to make the world feel, in Gerwig’s words, “toyetic.” This is a downside, to be sure, but in my fantasy Barbie life, I would not mind walking around on a string and feeling perpetually slightly too big for my gorgeous pink home.
Okay, but what do the Barbies in the movie do?
Beyond “just beach,” anything and everything. Here’s a small sampling of the antics they get up to:
Will the movie come with any exciting real-world accoutrements?
Thankfully, you can immerse yourself in Barbie Land spiritually, visually, sartorially, sonically, and just about every other way. The film will have a full original soundtrack, dubbed BARBIE: THE ALBUM, which will include music by Nicki Minaj, Ice Spice, Lizzo, HAIM, Khalid, and Charli XCX. Ken himself (a.k.a. Ryan Gosling) gets his own song, reportedly an ’80s-style power ballad called “I’m Just Ken.” Dua Lipa, of course, will be heavily featured, and her main track came out with a music video showing Gerwig in a director’s chair and snippets of one of Barbie’s big choreo numbers between scenes of Dua dancing around various Barbie-related set pieces (pink Cadillac, life-size pink slipper, etc.) There’s a tiny snippet of Nicki Minaj’s song, which seems to remix Aqua’s “Barbie Girl,” at the end of the newest trailer. This is sure to have significant impact on my Spotify Wrapped.
Much like, it seems, everything else in the Barbie Cinematic Universe, the soundtrack is rife with analytical flourishes. There is the aforementioned himbo ballad, disco songs (of course), reggaeton, and what one Atlantic exec described as “a nod to Sugar Ray.” Robbie told Rolling Stone that the lyrics are “responding to what’s happening on screen, so the music became more than just music — it became a device to enhance what the audience was watching and experiencing, and got to be the voice of the audience.” Hmmm! I would have accepted “just music,” but this is cool, too.
As release day approaches, an overwhelming slew of marketing tie-ins have been released including (but not limited to): Barbie skates, Barbie makeup, Barbie video games, Barbie hotels, Barbie Airbnbs, Barbie insurance, Barbie home décor, Barbie froyo, Barbie candles, Barbie pool floats, Barbie dental care, Barbie bus-stop benches, and even a special Barbie soda cup to slurp down your Icee at the movie theater. Capitalism, baby!
What else should we do to prepare for Barbie?
Invest in some patterned co-ords, get a tan, and maybe learn how to roller skate. Philosophically, at least.
This article has been updated.