Greta Gerwig directing the “Barbie” movie was always going to be an epic cinematic event for 2023. I’ll be honest, as someone who couldn’t stand Barbie as a little girl, I was, at best, indifferent to the announcement of the “Barbie” movie. For me, its saving grace from the very start has always been Gerwig’s involvement. She has vision! She has flair! She has everything you could hope for to elevate Barbie from the plastic toy that defined millions of childhoods (whether you loved her or hated her) to the complex, multilayered, existential girl boss icon of our times. Yes, Barbie, we all think about dying.
During her recent profile with Vogue, Margot Robbie shared that Gerwig has been revolutionizing Barbie since the day she came on board: “Greta wrote an abstract poem about Barbie [which] shares similarities with the Apostles’ Creed,” she explained. “Barbie” and the Apostles’ Creed are two titles we never thought we’d hear in the same sentence. But you do you, Greta. We trust in your vision.
This isn’t the only time Gerwig would link “Barbie” to an entirely unrelated and completely rogue title. From the “Apostles’ Creed,” it seems Gerwig next moved on to Stanley Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey,” paying tribute to the classic with her first teaser trailer. It was a completely bananas combo we never knew we needed, and the internet went into a total frenzy because of it. And then, April brought on the now infamous “Barbie” posters.
Yep, you know the ones. Those immediately-iconic posters everyone had a field day editing themselves onto and became an overnight pop-culture sensation. To let everyone on the internet market your movie for you and have heaps of fun satirizing themselves doing it? A pure genius move. Almost as genius as the posters’ most talked-about three little words: “He’s Just Ken.”
As a member of “The Notebook” generation, I never thought I’d see Ryan Gosling, everyone’s favorite Y2K dreamboat, described as “just” anything. But Gerwig did that. And better yet, she did it with the rest of the Kens too, with Simu Liu starring as “Another Ken” and fan-favorite Ncuti Gatwa as “Ken Again.” Gerwig made her statement absolutely clear: this summer belongs to Barbie, and Ken’s just along for the ride.
So begins what we have dubbed the “And Ken” effect. See, amongst the seemingly-endless parade of famous faces the posters introduced were all those average Ken dolls. And so were the glamorous, powerhouse Barbies set to become the next generation of little girls’ role models, firmly in keeping with the long history of real-life Mattel dolls from times gone by: Nobel Prize Barbie, Pulitzer Prize Barbie, President Barbie, we’re looking at you. These bold and inspiring Barbies are intended for the spotlight, and Ken’s job is to shine it on them.
Following the initial glimpses Gerwig released of the “Barbie” movie, fans took to social media in droves to question Ryan Gosling’s image as the Plastic Fantastic. Those shouting the loudest complained about his age, claiming 42 is far too old to play Ken. But if we know anything about Gerwig, she’s meticulously intentional. She doesn’t make mistakes and was ready to prove the internet had well and truly missed the point.
There’s something inherently hilarious about watching the 42-year-old dreamboat of an entire generation running around with platinum blonde hair, wearing outrageously fun, silly outfits, talking about girlfriend-boyfriend nights with Barbie, and not really knowing what that even means. It’s so incredibly self-aware and a totally genius choice for Ken. It’s also quite the power move to pare down one of Hollywood’s hottest men as nothing more than Barbie’s biggest fan, and it’s clear Gosling absolutely loves his life doing it. “He’s Just Ken” only reinforces how intentional Gerwig’s casting of Gosling was to champion female excellence, and so the “And Ken” effect continues.
Ken’s role as a Barbie superfan comes during a time in which films built in the world of gaming and toys have focussed almost entirely on the men of the franchises. Think of the likes of “The Super Mario Bros,” which follows everyone’s favorite Italian plumbers on their mission to save the world. Sure, Princess Peach lends a hand, but it’s clear Mario and Luigi are the heroes. Or how about “Free Guy,” where Ryan Reynolds’ Guy holds the weight of an entire gaming kingdom in his AI-generated hands, leaving the woman who actually coded him watching powerlessly from the sidelines? But in startling contrast, from the casting to the writing to the promotion of the “Barbie” movie, Gerwig has boldly made her statement that this is Barbie’s world, and Ken’s just living in it.
The official trailer released last week finally revealed the “Barbie” movie’s plot, ending months of fan theories and speculation. It’s now known that the film will follow Barbie’s entrance into the real world, causing all kinds of chaos as she searches for the meaning of life. But there is one specific frame from the trailer that everyone is talking about: Barbie and Ken’s prison mugshots.
When Barbie and Ken are arrested, their fingerprints are taken, and their mugshots are snapped. So far, so standard. But while Barbie looks intensely worried about their predicament, Ken is living his best life. His legal name on the placard reading “And Ken” is one of the funniest frames of film this year: he’s so overjoyed at his life as a Barbie simp that not even the prospect of prison phases him. If there are any theories this week’s trailer release confirmed, it’s that the “And Ken” effect is boosting Barbie’s icon status into the stratosphere, firmly solidifying Ken’s place in the Barbie-verse and, incidentally, making him an immediate fan favorite. After all, he’s a pretty relatable guy: aren’t we all Barbie fangirls right now?
By now, Greta Gerwig’s vision for the “Barbie” movie is clear: Barbie is in the spotlight this summer, Ken’s just… well, just Ken. And he doesn’t need or want anything more than that. We see you for the Barbie stan you are, Ken, and we appreciate you.
Are you looking forward to the “Barbie” movie? What do you think of the latest trailer and Ryan Gosling’s casting as Ken? Please let us know your thoughts in the comments section below or over on our Twitter account.
You can follow Kate and hear more of her thoughts on the Emmys and TV on Twitter at @KatePadley_