A Sad Barbie

A Sad Barbie September 8, 2023

I went to the Barbie movie.

I shouldn’t have done that. We didn’t have a penny to spare. But it was the second of the month and I was doing the big grocery shopping, and I knew I would end up treating myself to a lunch or something superfluous. Might as well spend the nine dollars on a movie ticket.

Barbie was excellent. I haven’t seen a movie in a theater since about 2016. I used to love going to the movies, but I’ve gotten out of the habit. I loved everyone’s performance, though I guiltily thought that Ryan Gosling stole the show. I wanted to hug and slap him at the same time.

This isn’t about the Barbie movie. You’ve already seen a million reviews of Barbie. This is about me, going to a movie when I shouldn’t have, worrying. The theater out in Robinson was the kind with recliner chairs that let you put your feet up, and trays to hold your popcorn, and I was sitting sideways in my recliner tray, stimming with my hands against the popcorn tray, not eating any snacks, worrying. I kept getting the ludicrous mental image of a security guard bursting in through the fire exit and stopping the movie to expel me for not buying popcorn, and me stammering that I have PCOS and a terrible gluten sensitivity and all movie snacks make me sick. Eventually,  the image evolved into something truly horrifying, a SWAT team or a platoon of soldiers from a sci fi movie trying to drag me out of the recliner chair without flipping up the popcorn tray first, and then blaming me for resisting arrest when I couldn’t stand up. And all the while, the move was playing, and it was excellent. It’s really funny, and also deep. My favorite kind of entertainment is the kind does just what it says on the tin and gives you a silly fun day at the movies, while also being deep.

While Barbie cried “She thinks I’m a fascist!? But I don’t control the railways or the flow of commerce!” I squirmed in the recliner chair, wondering if Trump was going to win another election.

When Alan popped up– and everyone who’s seen Barbie surely knows exactly what moment I’m talking about, with Alan popping up unexpectedly at just the right moment, I wondered if my car had been impounded and I’d have to hitchhike home.

I burst out laughing at every funny line, and I was definitely laughing because the movie is wickedly funny, but I was also voluntarily laughing on queue when the script seemed to call for it, because my belly couldn’t laugh involuntarily.

At the movie’s sad and serious moments, I got a lump in my throat. I wanted the lump to rise up all the way and make me cry, because I haven’t been able to cry since I found out my stalker was dead. I think some people in the theater were really crying. That’s how profound a movie Barbie is. But I couldn’t make any tears squeeze out, and that bothered me.

I liked Kate McKinnon as Weird Barbie best. I think I have always been Weird Barbie. I both hate myself and am proud of myself for being a Weird Barbie.

As a mother of a brand new middle schooler, my heart broke at the human side plot, which was executed perfectly. But I realized that on another level it had already been broken for some time.

I both loved and hated the ending. I was overwhelmed with admiration akin to reverence at the myth they managed to tell in such a ridiculous format: To desire to be human is to desire to imagine how it might be, instead of just being a character in a story. And to become truly human is to be willing to feel feelings, even when it is surprising or uncomfortable or not what you’re supposed to feel.

That was a little too close to home.

I walked out of the theater and got in my car, which had not been impounded.

I dawdled on the way home, stopping at a makeup store to rub foundation samples on myself and try to figure out whether I’m light with peach undertones or light with cool undertones or just dishwater dull, and  feeling so ugly for not knowing, and not buying any. I went to the mall that I hadn’t visited since that ill-fated Christmas trip, and tried not to think about The Lost Girl and everything that went so catastrophically wrong. I tried not to think about my own girl, who has always hated Barbies but who used to play with Captain America and Iron Man in the secondhand Barbie dreamhouse. She doesn’t play with toys anymore. She is liking middle school and is thankful to everyone who asks after her, but she also wants me to respect her privacy and not tell stories about her for a bit. She’s an adolescent now, and adolescence is a difficult time.

I stopped at a Barnes and Noble and tried not to look at the children’s books and think about how much I miss reading aloud.

I bought groceries, carefully keeping a running tally of the total. And then I ruined my careful planning by swiping the card for a lunch at Chipotle anyway, even though I’d spent my lunch money on a movie.

I drove home in the late afternoon, worrying.

I realized that I don’t want to be human just now. I don’t want to imagine how it might be or feel surprising feelings, and if I had a choice I would rather be a doll. But what I’d like best is to have a long cry.

Anyway, this is just to say that I’ve been awfully depressed lately.

It’s hard to swallow the lump in my throat and write. Sorry for the radio static. It’s not because I’m not trying.

Barbie is a good movie. I want to try and see Oppenheimer next, or maybe I’ll watch Barbie again. That movie with the three Marvel lady superheroes I saw a trailer for also looked good. I might go to Robinson and watch movies more often, now that Adrienne is in school.

I think I’m going to be all right soon, insofar as I ever am (which I admit isn’t much). It’s just been a rough couple of weeks.

That’s what I did when I should have been writing.

We’ll see where we go from here.




Mary Pezzulo is the author of Meditations on the Way of the Cross, The Sorrows and Joys of Mary, and Stumbling into Grace: How We Meet God in Tiny Works of Mercy.

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