There are so many things to learn from the Barbie movie—and the unique heartbreak of moms is one of them
“It is literally impossible to be a woman. You are so beautiful and so smart, and it kills me that you don’t think you’re good enough. Like, we have to always be extraordinary, but somehow we’re always doing it wrong,” says America Ferrara, launching into the monologue that anyone who’s seen Barbie can’t stop talking about.
I expected the Barbie movie to be fun. I expected it to be funny. I didn’t expect it to validate so many feelings I have as the mother of a near-tween daughter—and speak to me so deeply. (Warning: spoilers ahead.)
There hasn’t been a movie in years that has drummed up the pop culture frenzy that Barbie has—and delivered on its promise. The movie is a moment in the social zeitgeist that won’t be forgotten, and there are so many things that justify the adoration: the seamless integration of feminist themes into a decidedly non-feminist franchise, the all-star cast, the incredible set. Greta Gerwig’s Barbie speaks to all manner of women—but if you’re a mom, the way her screenplay so precisely pinpoints the pain of being one will slay you.
The lion’s share of pre-release attention went to Margot Robbie as Barbie and Ryan Gosling as Ken. But America Ferrara really makes the script shine as a mother who works at Mattel headquarters, sketching ideas for new dolls. The sketches magically come to life in the adjoining Barbie reality, where the thoughts swirling through Ferrara’s head become Robbie’s. It’s Ferrara’s struggles as a mother to a tween daughter that inspire the anxiety and thoughts of doom that upend the entire Barbie universe. These uncharacteristically Barbie thoughts transform everyone’s favorite doll from an idealist to a person obsessing over the idea of death… and cellulite. When she crosses over to the real world to try and “fix” herself, fate lands her in Ferrara’s car—and the two work together to tackle the patriarchy.
Ferrara’s anxiety stems from her growing daughter, who no longer follows her around, wants to play with her, or even seems to like anything about her. It inspires a very visible depression and anxiety—one that so many of us with children growing more independent can relate to. Ferrara’s daughter (played by Ariana Greenblatt) has no patience for her mother and visibly recoils at any attention she gives her. And Ferrara’s increasing frustration with the world and her place in it—as a woman and a mother—inspires the monologue that is going wildly viral for speaking to women everywhere.
“You have to be thin, but not too thin. And you can never say you want to be thin. You have to say you want to be healthy, but also you have to be thin. You have to have money, but you can’t ask for money because that’s crass,” Ferrara points out. “You have to be a boss, but you can’t be mean. You have to lead, but you can’t squash other people’s ideas.” She addresses how hard it is to be a woman—to always be expected to answer for men’s bad behavior and to constantly be grateful for any small nod in your direction.
But it’s her words about motherhood and the weight of always feeling like you’re failing that are so perfectly on point. “You’re supposed to love being a mother, but don’t talk about your kids all the damn time. You have to be a career woman, but also always be looking out for other people… You have to never get old, never be rude, never show off, never be selfish, never fall down, never fail, never show fear, never get out of line. It’s too hard,” she screams. “It’s too contradictory, and nobody gives you a medal or says ‘thank you’! And it turns out, in fact, that not only are you doing everything wrong, but also everything is your fault.”
The fact that it’s this particular trio—Barbie and a mother and daughter—fighting the patriarchy—is so fitting. For so many of us, Barbie represents a vessel we poured our dreams into. The moment that we can finally share Barbie with our daughters is one that is etched in the souls of those of us who love the doll. Watching Ferrara’s on-screen daughter reject Barbie and her mother simultaneously is so relatable—we have to believe that was intentional on Gerwig’s part. And if it wasn’t, she managed to unknowingly tap into one of the most heartbreaking and rewarding parts of motherhood: when your child begins to “outgrow” you.
There are so many things to love about this movie: the brilliant way it flips the script on how we treat men and women, the uncanny comedic timing of Ryan Gosling as Ken and Kate McKinnon as Weird Barbie, and Barbie’s somehow totally relatable struggle of trying to figure out what she is meant to do. But if you’re a mom, prepare for some deep emotions to surface. Because as Barbie’s sidekick, Ferrara paints the perfect picture of what it’s like to watch your daughter grow—and yearn for her approval.