Greta Gerwig’s Barbie blockbuster is not nearly the man-hating screed that some on the right have made it out to be. For the most part, the film is a satirical comedy about how hard it is to be an adult—female or male—in a messy modern world. 

In the film, Margot Robbie’s “Stereotypical Barbie”—who had heretofore lived blissfully in “Barbie Land,” where women do everything, men only “beach,” and every night is girls’ night—is suddenly plagued with thoughts of mortality. Accompanying these unbidden musings are feet that go flat when liberated from stiletto heels, as well as cellulite. Barbie learns that the catalyst for her creeping humanity is that a woman in the Real World (a worker at Mattel, it turns out) has been projecting her dark, anxious thoughts onto the iconic dolls. 

So, Barbie and Ken journey to the Real World to put a stop to the intrusion of human thoughts into Barbie Land. Barbie learns that women in the Real World aren’t free from the limitations of what the film resentfully (and Ken, delightedly, after picking up some books on the subject) deems “the patriarchy.” After returning to Barbie Land and liberating it from Ken’s hostile takeover (but also granting Ken a more central role in his own story going forward), Barbie chooses to leave the plastic (anti)utopia of Barbie Land behind. In a poignant scene that is reminiscent of The Giver, Barbie self-consciously chooses humanity—physical and spiritual, with all its wonder and all its pain. 

Yes, there are cringe-inducing lines—lots of them—that sound ripped from prototypical collegiate women’s studies 101. Yes, those lines cheapen many of the film’s richer points. Yes, Gerwig would do well to gain a passing acquaintance with history and with sex difference: men writ large don’t and never did oppress women; basic biology is to blame for nearly all of women’s (erstwhile!) limitations; and the “toxic masculinity” indulged in a fringe “manosphere” represents not socialization into patriarchy, but a failure of socialization into other-regarding adult manhood. 

All that said, however, Barbie ultimately gives due regard to the existential crises of both Barbie and Ken, each of which is really an allegory for the twin dilemmas of men and women in a modern world that has been stripped of prescribed roles for each sex. In a freer Barbie Land, where he has some newfound autonomy, Ken has to figure out who he is and what he wants for himself—just like, the film heavy-handedly analogizes, women in the Real World after feminism. 

Finally, Barbie concludes on a note of sex essentialism so correctly conservative that I wonder at Gerwig’s audacity—or was it her Freudian slip?—in this moment of trendy but incoherent “gender fluidity.” 

When Barbie chooses embodiment, her first stop in the Real World is the gynecologist’s office. So, in the non-fantasy world, an adult female body—not pink cars or pretty dresses or flowing hair—is what makes someone a woman. Amen to that, Barbie.