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22 Jul 2023


Canadian actor Ryan Gosling and Australian actress Margot Robbie (R) pose on the pink carpet upon ... [+] arrival for the European premiere of "Barbie" in central London on July 12, 2023. (Photo by JUSTIN TALLIS / AFP) (Photo by JUSTIN TALLIS/AFP via Getty Images)

AFP via Getty Images

There’s a great scene in the new Barbie movie where Ken (Ryan Gosling) and his fellow Kens all sit around on the beach playing Matchbox Twenty’s Push in order to impress the Barbies in their male-dominated new world order. It’s hilarious, not just because of the setup, but because the song is about an emotionally abusive girlfriend.

It’s pretty much guaranteed that the vast majority of moviegoers who see this film will not know what that particular song is about. The song was controversial even when it came out, in 1997, as a major hit for the band. Feminist groups at the time were outraged, and claimed that the song was about domestic violence and abusing women. Lead singer Rob Thomas clarified that the song was actually about emotional abuse, and sung from the perspective of the abusive girlfriend, but that did little to quell the backlash.

There’s actually a lot to unpack here. Was the song chosen because it’s something that pissed off feminists in the 90s? Or was it chosen because in the Barbie movie, Barbie (Margot Robbie) is actually kind of an abusive jerk to Ken? Does it work on multiple levels? Are we supposed to think about it, and write think-pieces about it, like I’m doing right this very second???

Whatever the case, I love the song choice precisely because it makes me ask these questions. I was in a band in the 90s when I was in high school where I wrote all the songs and was lead-singer and we were compared, in the school newspaper, to Matchbox Twenty, which at the time I found absolutely mortifying. I wasn’t a fan. Now, decades later, I sing along to their songs whenever I hear them (which, because I am old, is sometimes on the radio!)

The rest of the movie is certainly thought-provoking as well, but Barbie suffers the most from its heavy-handedness. I’m all for a feminist version of the famous doll, and I think that Greta Gerwig is often very clever and very funny when dealing with these issues, but I also think the film hammers the point home just a bit too hard much of the time. Its biggest weakness is its overt political message, which would have been much better served as a subtle suggestion, implanted with care, into the minds of the audience rather than a bright pink billboard dominating the skyline.

You can read my Barbie review here. What did you think of the movie?

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