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    Barbie Rocks the House!

    By Jan Wahl–

    Once in a while a movie absolutely surprises, shocks … blows your mind. It is so unexpected that it takes days to stop thinking about it. CODA, Brokeback Mountain, The King’s Speech, My Favorite Year, The Celluloid Closet, A Woman’s Face … to name just a few. But who would have ever thought that list could include Barbie, a movie about a doll that I used to torture in the fifth grade.

    Yes, I admit it. I was a little girl who didn’t like the Barbie. My friend Donna and I would draw pictures on her and twist her legs and head and throw it all in backyards. I always liked the fashions and I still do. But the unattainable image and the message drove me crazy even in my pre-teen years.

    Photos courtesy of Warner Bros. Entertainment

    Let’s fast-forward to the very popular movie Barbie. There’s a good reason it has grabbed so many of us. There is so much going on in the screenplay by Greta Gerwig and Noah Baumbach that it sometimes feels like a PhD paper on the patriarchy. There is a long and richly detailed speech given by America Ferrera toward the end of the movie that is so brilliant it is worth checking out over again on Google. Just search for “America Ferrera speech in Barbie.” If you haven’t yet seen the film then I can hear you saying, “Jan, are you kidding me? All this about a movie about Barbie?” Yes, and so much more.

    From the 2001: A Space Odyssey opener through a candy-colored trip to Barbieland, from a diverse world of Barbie to Ken’s need for manhood, this film dives deep. It’s also fun enough for a ten-year-old since the dance numbers, vibrant animation, and whimsical visuals will keep the interest. The big ideas may go over some young minds, but those viewers will eventually come back and understand that this is a radical movie about feminism, harkening back to the beginnings of the women’s movement. In Barbieland the females are in control, and soon Barbie finds out the real world has a different structure. This is where the fun really begins, and the intelligence of the movie is evident then too.

    Barbie’s inventor was a Jewish woman named Ruth Handler. She hoped that the doll would allow girls to aspire to something other than marriage and motherhood. Mattel is all over this movie, and they must be somewhat of a hip company or they would never have approved of this kind of strong satire. Having doofus Will Ferrell play the CEO is perfection; he is as lost as Ken is at the beach. Speaking of hunky Ken, where did Ryan Gosling get that body? One of the many mysteries of Barbie!

    Ibsen’s A Doll’s House gave us a woman trapped. Barbie the movie sends her out into the world. We have a new doll’s house, and director Gerwig stayed true to her vision. How this movie got made with its revolutionary ideas is beyond me; I guess some of the people greenlighting it missed the fire. But it’s there, and we are still struggling. Thanks for joining us, Barbie.

    In other entertainment news: If you have Netflix, there is an amazing series now called Painkiller. Billed as a fictional retelling of how oxycontin changed the lives of everyone involved, it stars Uzo Aduba, Matthew Broderick, and other fine actors who take us on this nightmarish journey. There is much information here of how the drug was promoted, sold, and marketed.  Doctors play a big part in this, as does the FDA. Exploring the origins and the aftermath of this deadly drug, we see that the problems surrounding it persist. Peter Berg has presented us with a rough, remarkable, and frightening tale of the monster among us. Painkiller is an important and relevant series.

    Jan Wahl is a Hollywood historian, film critic on various broadcast outlets, and has her own YouTube channel series, “Jan Wahl Showbiz.” She has two Emmys and many awards for her longtime work on behalf of film buffs and the LGBTQ community. Contact her at

    Off the Wahl
    Published on August 24, 2023