On August 2, 2023

Movie Diary: Pretty in pink

 

I grew up in a family with two older brothers; one was 8 years older and the other was 13 years older. Given the age gap, we did not play together much. So, by default, I was left to fend for myself, and while there were plenty of neighbor kids around, when I was home, most of my playtime encompassed solo endeavors. 

One of my favorite pastimes was playing in the large sandbox underneath our porch. The area was shaded from the elements, which made it cool in the summer and devoid of snow in the winter. And the dirt had the perfect consistency; moist enough to form castles and forts, but soft enough to move around in large quantities. 

I spent countless hours in that sandbox creating intricate runways for marbles and twisting roadways for my Matchbox cars. But the greatest adventures in that sandbox involved my all-time favorite toy: G.I. Joe. 

I always had an infinity for inanimate playmates, which manifested in a bed full of stuffed animals when I was very young. As I matured, I turned my attention to army men and cowboys and Indians. But then, one Christmas, everything changed when I was gifted a G.I. Joe action figure (remember, boys like to say “action figure;” only girls play with dolls).

I created countless memories with that 12-inch tall plastic army man. With his moveable joints and clutchable hands, nothing could stop G.I. Joe from winning any war, climbing any cement wall, or digging out from any pit. I tried to kill him — even set him on fire a few times — but he always survived.

My G.I. Joe had dark, short cropped hair and a full beard. And the hair wasn’t painted on — it was furry to the touch! He came with the standard issue camouflage army outfit, but I lobbied my parents for several other accoutrements. I had the scuba gear and the safari paraphernalia, along with an assortment of combat weaponry. My good friend (who also had a G.I Joe), had the Adventure Team Jeep, which I coveted terribly, but never acquired.

I used to come up with elaborate adventures for my G.I. Joe. I especially liked climbing into trees and tying him to a rope before swinging him into danger. And on more than one occasion, I fashioned a raft and sent him down the brook that bordered our property. 

If we went on vacation, I took G.I. Joe along. If I stayed overnight at a friend’s house, G.I. accompanied me. And if there was a show-and-tell at school, there was no question what my selection would be.

When I went to bed at night, G.I. Joe slept on the shelf just above my head in a bed that I fashioned out of a cardboard box filled with crumbled up paper towels. And if I couldn’t sleep, he’d be the first thing I’d grab for entertainment. 

Eventually, I grew weary of playing with G.I Joe because other activities started to commandeer my time. He only came out of his locker box on rare occasions, like when I procured some firecrackers and wanted to use him as a projectile. Or when I wanted to freak out my buddy’s younger sister by placing G.I. Joe and her Barbie doll in compromising positions. At one point we even took Polaroids, but that backfired when my buddy’s dad found them and gave us a serious tongue-lashing.   

Not surprisingly, I had no interest in Barbie as a child. And honestly, I still have little interest in her. But with the release of her recent feature, “Barbie,” and all the commotion surrounding the film, I figured I had to give it a try.

 “Barbie” is not at all what I expected. I had prepared myself for a goofy, highly-stylized comedy paying homage to a classic American icon. And while it was definitely that, it was also a dose of blunt force trauma in the form of some sophisticated feminist ideology. If that sounds like it might be too much for the anticipated audience (young girls), let’s be very clear, this is not a children’s movie.

I’ll happily remove myself from speaking about the cultural undercurrents that this film concentrated on, and will instead focus on the storytelling aspects. With that said, “Barbie” was a visually intoxicating film to look at, with its pink-infused imagery and dreamlike surroundings. And it did contain a multitude of creative references to the doll and her history (many of which were lost on me, but I happily learned about afterwards).

However, while there were a few laughs to be had, I found the humor mild at best. Moreover, the storyline, which was surprisingly hard to make sense of, left me feeling uninspired.

In the end, “Barbie” felt like it wanted to be too many things: a cartoon, a musical, a diatribe on the patriarchy. It may work for some, but it definitely fell flat for me.

A colorless “C+” for “Barbie,” now playing in theaters everywhere. 

Got a question or comment for Dom? You can email him at moviediary@att.net.

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