Editor’s Note: This article contains spoilers

Unfortunately, at no point during Barbie was I filled with existential angst.

Greta Gerwig’s fourth directorial effort stars Margot Robbie as Stereotypical Barbie, who lives a perfect, happy, pink–filled life, surrounded by a gaggle of gorgeous, successful women in Barbie–land, a world where the gender dynamics of the real world are flipped, putting women in all positions of power. That is, until Barbie one day awakes to find herself with flat feet, cellulite, and irrepressible thoughts of death. She travels to meet Weird Barbie (Kate McKinnon) and learns that she must don Birkenstocks—the horror!—and embark upon a journey into the Real World to find the girl who is projecting her insecurities onto Barbie. 

Barbie, with Ken (Ryan Gosling) in tow, enters the real world, and finds that it’s nothing like Barblieland. Men are in charge, and women are held to paradoxical standards and treated like throwaway toys. Worse, still, for Barbie, is the realization that the girl she thought she was to connect with, Sasha (Ariana Greenblatt), sees Barbie as a bygone relic, a representation of the plasticine objectification of the days of yore. (Ken, meanwhile, discovers patriarchy. And horses. And has a hell of a time with both of those concepts.) Barbie spends the movie navigating her relationship to the girl’s mother (America Ferrera) and, ultimately, her relationship to the expectations of womanhood.

Barbie, immediately, is a gorgeous film. My favorite parts of the movie were easily the production design and the costuming, so much so that I went to IMDb to properly credit Sarah Greenwood and Jacqueline Durran respectively. Each outfit exceeded expectations, and the set was fantastically fake while still looking inviting. I never knew so many shades of pink even existed.

It’s very well–acted, too. America Ferrera is fantastic as Gloria, a Mattel employee and mother, managing to deliver some painfully preachy lines in a way that makes them a bit more bearable. Robbie’s eyes should be billed as their own character, they do so much impressive acting. Greenblatt sends me hurling back to middle school as an emo–adjacent tweenager, and Will Ferrell is greatly entertaining as the CEO of Mattel, despite being the embodiment of capitalizing on women’s insecurities and corporate feminism for profit. Bottle–blond Gosling is a scene–stealer, doing some truly hilarious doll–like movements and bursting out into song with such confidence that I came away even more convinced that every movie ever would benefit from a musical number.

The secondary actors (with one or two Barbies being the exception) are incredibly entertaining as well. Michael Cera plays Allan, who's really just Michael Cera, and it’s fun. Kate McKinnon plays a Kate McKinnon SNL sketch character, and it’s also fun. Simu Liu makes the worst guy you know seem not so bad, and it, too, is fun. And I would have loved to see some more Issa Rae, Ncuti Gatwa, and Kingsley Ben–Adir; they didn’t get much, but they did a lot with what they had.

As much of a romp Barbie is, it’s a little too like its gorgeous sets: well–crafted enough to hint at something deeper, but ultimately pretty plastic. None of the other Barbies have any sort of interiority—they barely even have more than a few lines. It’s unfortunate that a movie that wants to bill Barbie as sincerely representative of everything a woman can be doesn’t actually let those Barbies be much more than window dressing. They may have a diverse array of jobs, sure, but none of them (other than Weird Barbie) have any discernable personality or anything that makes them an individual. Why is it that only Robbie’s Barbie gets to have any sort of agency?

It’s an understatement to say that Barbie was highly–anticipated and broadly advertised. The marketing budget allegedly superseded the production budget by $5 million. That plus word–of–mouth advertising done via memes (largely Barbenheimer related ones) meant that it was pretty much impossible to be ignorant of this blockbuster. Gosling stayed in character as Ken for a portion of the press, leading to things like this truly incredible interview.

Amid all the advertising, Greta Gerwig talked big about what her movie meant, and promised that it would be an hour and forty–five minutes of pure feminism. I lost track of how many times I saw the quote of Gerwig comparing Barbie to a gender–reversed creation myth circulating the internet.

Barbie is certainly about female empowerment, even if it’s not a message that gets delivered in the most coherent or nuanced way. Ferrera monologues a handful of times about the issues that women face as members of society, and her accurate summation of those issues has drawn a lot of heat from conservatives who are convinced a summer blockbuster will somehow subjugate all men overnight.

But Barbie doesn’t really get deep enough to warrant Gerwig’s poem of Biblical proportions. It feels pretty obvious to say that not all women have the same life experiences, and most women don’t look like Margot Robbie. The film even pokes fun at itself in an instance of a truly insufferable type of meta–humor that’s all too popular in mainstream movies these days by having Helen Mirren narrate, as Barbie is breaking down over “not feeling pretty”, that “Margot Robbie is the wrong person to cast if [the filmmakers] want to make that point.” 

Cute bit, sure, but … entirely true. Barbie really doesn’t challenge conventional conceptions of beauty, nor does it particularly push back all that hard against the idea that women must be beautiful. There’s no makeup–less Barbie. Even emo teen Sasha gets what is tantamount to a makeover by the end, forgoing her black T–shirt for a pink jumpsuit and beach waves. Perhaps the movie would have come off as more authentically feminist if it actually let any of the women in it (other than McKinnon’s “Weird Barbie”) refuse to play into the idea that a woman has to wear pretty dresses and lots of makeup. At one point, Ferrera insists: “I’m weird and I’m dark and I’m crazy.” Unfortunately, we don’t actually get to see that. She still wants “normal Barbie” to wear a “flattering” top.

Even the diverse casting isn’t engaged with (beyond a joke of Greenblatt calling Robbie “white savior Barbie”.) I was particularly disappointed by Barbie’s final moment as an exemplification of the intro–level feminism that permeates the movie. It's a return, in this brand of feminism, to second–wave era bioessentialism that seems to be more prominent a facet of mainstream feminism these days, even if it’s not an explicit talking point in the movie. Barbie becomes a real person instead of a sexless plastic figure and goes to a gynecologist for the first time—we laugh! We rejoice! Finally, now this microcosm of womanhood can take care of her … microcosm of womanhood! But the whole “becoming a real woman = getting a vagina” joke can’t sit right in a movie that casts trans actress (and Philadelphian) Hari Nef as … I don’t know, Transgender–Enough–To–Be–Inclusive–To–The–Ultra–Fem–But–Not–So–Explicitly–Transgender–That–It–Alienates–Anyone–Other–Than–Those–Who–Somehow–Decided–The–Movie–Was–Communist–Propaganda Barbie?

Barbie doesn’t engage with the political aspects of feminism in any way. It’s a pop–y, girl–power–slogan–filled, 2016–Instagram–infographics feminism, and not even one of those infographics explaining the definition of intersectionality. When the Kens discover patriarchy, the solution is for the Barbies to flirt with the Kens until the Kens are distracted enough for the Barbies to dismantle the system. Political–power–via–sex–in–an–explicitly–sexless–world is not exactly a hard–hitting engagement with structural misogyny, nor is it a particularly compelling or coherent plot point. Barbie steps up to the social commentary plate, but ends up striking out.

Even the “the patriarchy hurts men, too” message feels underbaked, because we don’t actually see tangible examples of gender–based structural inequality in any real way, aside from a few Gosling gags as Ken discovers patriarchy. The Barbies and Kens both get un–brainwashed by essentially being told: “societal expectations suck, you should be who you want to be.” And that’s a true and powerful message, yes, but you can’t just manifest away large–scale misogyny by believing in yourself.

But I can’t say I’m surprised. Barbie is, at its core, a Barbie commercial (and a GM commercial). There was no world in which its feminist message would actually push back against anyone other than the gaggle of conservative men who are predictably, loudly, and exhaustingly convinced that this movie hates men. Despite Ferrell’s character claiming otherwise, Barbie the movie and Barbie the toy are ultimately about the bottom line.

It’s not that every movie has to be a feminist masterpiece. And it’s not that I was ever expecting a corporation–funded summer funfest to be one. But by ascribing radical feminism values to something that isn’t, Gerwig defangs actual subversive feminism and centers a narrative that ultimately doesn’t say much about fighting against the status quo on a structural level while acting like it does. It’s entry–level  feminism, which is a good start, but it just doesn’t go as far as it should have. It couldn’t, not while needing to be (almost) universally palatable to consumers.

There’s sure to be a million more thinkpieces on if Barbie is feminist or not (as well as on if the Barbie toys are, which is a whole other can of worms). They’re worth reading and writing, because it’s foolish to say that cultural moments such as this movie can ever be fully divorced from politics, and because the return to the type of feminism it espouses feels like a step back in a culture that’s currently going through a massive wave of conservative backlash. And ultimately, while incredibly fun and jaw–droppingly well–designed, Barbie is exactly what I thought it would be, while not getting to the place I hoped it might.