Things Only Adults Notice About Weird Barbie

"Barbie" had plenty of buzz heading into its release, but the movie really blew everyone away at the box office. The movie didn't just delight audiences; it also set a handful of new records, becoming the largest opening of 2023 and the largest opening ever by a woman director. Millions of people are turning up at theaters to see "Barbie," but wait — isn't this supposed to be a movie for kids?

Part of what makes "Barbie" so spectacular is that it really is for everyone. Younger viewers are going to get a kick out of all the jokes and visual gags, but at the heart of the movie is a story that's really aimed at an older audience. There are plenty of things only adults will notice in "Barbie," and we're talking about more than just a few jokes. For a movie all about a line of toys, "Barbie" has a surprising amount to say about identity, relationships, and what it means to be human.

If there's one character in the movie who's a perfect icon of the way the story can appeal to multiple audiences, it's Weird Barbie (Kate McKinnon). She's exactly the kind of quirky character that kids will love on their first viewing, but there's tons baked into the character that has a deeper meaning, and she has a strong way of speaking to the older viewers in the theater. Did you catch everything she was saying to the adults in the room?

Weird Barbie is an oracle

Weird Barbie's life in Barbieland isn't exactly enviable. For one thing, everyone calls her "weird," and she's more-or-less forced to live on the outskirts of Barbieland. She doesn't act like she's all that lonely in her house, but it's hard to imagine she doesn't feel a bit sad that the other Barbies won't spend any time with her. However, it's obvious that the other Barbies do hold some reverence for her. When things get particularly challenging in Barbieland, they know that they can turn to Weird Barbie for some deep insights.

Weird Barbie isn't all that different from certain characters in Greek mythology. Like an oracle, Weird Barbie understands more about the world than anyone around her, but partially because of that she doesn't get to partake in the world like everyone else. Weird Barbie is someone who the other Barbies rely on, but she's also someone that they fear, to one degree or another. She may not see the future, but she does know how to help the other Barbies when they're in need.

Greta Gerwig definitely intended to portray Weird Barbie as a sort of sage and counselor for the rest of Barbieland. Instead of looking to mythology though, Gerwig has said that her inspiration for the character came from a more contemporary source. She told Rolling Stone that she lightly based the character on the titular figure of Lois Lowry's novel "The Giver." Gerwig said, "She would be like the giver in a way like she had the knowledge that everyone else didn't have."

Weird Barbie didn't choose her own style

All of the Barbies have their own sense of style. Whereas some like Doctor Barbie (Hari Nef) dress in a way that makes them easy to identify, others have outfits that are all about self-representation. For example, Stereotypical Barbie (Margot Robbie) picks bright, flashy outfits that usually have a heavy reliance on the color pink. Weird Barbie doesn't really go in for that kind of style. She still seems to love the color pink — what Barbie wouldn't? — but from one scene to the next her outfits are entirely unpredictable.

Of course, none of the Barbies are really picking their own outfits. In reality, most of what Stereotypical Barbie has to wear comes from the toymakers at Mattel in the real world. Kids get to dress up their Barbies however they want, but most of them use clothes that come with their toys. Whoever is playing with Weird Barbie clearly didn't get the memo that Mattel had already designed outfits for their favorite doll.

Weird Barbie is dressed so bizarrely because whoever is playing with her is just having a great time experimenting. Jacqueline Durran, the costume designer for "Barbie," told Refinery29 that she wanted to take an unexpected approach to Weird Barbie's style. Instead of making her look messy and unorganized, she decided that the doll is "Someone who's very high-fashion and conceptual." Weird Barbie's owner clearly has an eye for fashion, and that just makes us love her more.

The basement smell comes from the real world

Barbieland might be separate from the real world, but it's obviously heavily influenced by what human beings are doing. Barbie's shower doesn't have any real water and her morning cup of OJ is always empty because out in the real world, she's just inside a plastic house. When things in real life change, however, they have an effect on Barbieland. For example, Gloria (America Ferrera) becomes depressed and starts imagining a Barbie with cellulite and frequent thoughts of death, and those things become real for Stereotypical Barbie in her world. 

Because we know that the real world has a real impact on the dolls, we also know a tragic detail about Weird Barbie. At one point in the movie, there's a throwaway joke where Weird Barbie briefly calls out that she smells like basement. The joke definitely lands, but after thinking about it for a while longer, the adults in the audience might have realized that it also points to a sad truth about her existence outside of Barbieland.

If Weird Barbie smells like basement, it's probably because out in the real world, her humans are done playing with her. Outside of Barbieland, Weird Barbie has met the fate that awaits so many beloved childhood toys. She's been packed into a storage bin and set down in the basement, likely abandoned for decades. Luckily, Weird Barbie doesn't seem all that concerned with her fate in real life, and by the end of the movie, she seems pretty happy with her position in Barbieland.

Department of Sanitation is an odd pick

Almost by necessity, Weird Barbie has to be excited by some pretty weird things. It makes sense then that her happy ending in "Barbie" isn't necessarily the kind of resolution that most people would pick for themselves. Weird Barbie wins over the rest of Barbieland when she helps save them from the Kens' brainwashing. The Barbies suddenly realize just how mean they've been to Weird Barbie over the years, and President Barbie (Issa Rae) decides to offer her a position in her Cabinet. Weird Barbie is thrilled and immediately asks to work in sanitation.

Most kids probably aren't up to date on their Presidential Cabinet positions, but hopefully, the adults in the audience realized that there isn't a Department of Sanitation in the Cabinet, at least in the United States. Barbieland's political system seems to be based on the U.S., so it's a fair guess that President Barbie is going to have to create a whole new department just to keep her new friend happy. No one can deny that the Barbies are deeply kind when they want to be.

The sanitation choice is pitch-perfect Weird Barbie. The decision actually came from the person who understands Weird Barbie best: Kate McKinnon. In an interview with Cinemablend, McKinnon's co-star Rae talked about the Department of Sanitation moment and said, "I mean that was one of her brilliant improvised lines." As if we needed any more proof that McKinnon's casting was perfect.

Weird Barbie's legs are a Mattel callback

There are a handful of memorable details about Weird Barbie, and most of them have something to do with her existence in the real world. She wears strange clothes because a kid is dressing her up in whatever they can find; she has a bizarre haircut because her hair has been chopped with safety scissors; and her makeup is a bit unorthodox because someone's drawn all over her face with a permanent marker. All of Weird Barbie's traits are pretty easy to track, but there's one that kids in 2023 might not be able to tie to a real-world reference.

Weird Barbie is always doing the splits. The other Barbies bemoan this fact when they first talk about her, and we get to see her doing the splits standing up, laying down, and at any opportunity she can find. In our real world, Barbies have legs that bend at the knees, but that wasn't always the case. Back in the day, Mattel's toys could only bend at their waists, so anytime you'd get out your dolls, there was bound to be one or two stuck in the splits.

Weird Barbie is clearly part of this older generation of Barbies. That's another part of why she's had so much time to get weird and so much time to learn about the connection between Barbieland and the real world. She's in the splits because her knees don't bend ... and possibly because the elastic in her hips is getting a bit tired.

Weird Barbie's tragic life helps her understand the real world

Weird Barbie knows more about what's really going on in Barbieland than anyone else. She's the person the other Barbies go to when they need serious advice. Of course, for the purposes of the movie, Weird Barbie needs to understand things so she can help Stereotypical Barbie get the plot rolling. That might be enough for the movie's younger audience, but the rest of us might still wonder how Weird Barbie knows so much. The answer is darker than you might think.

The only reason Weird Barbie is able to piece together the connection between Barbieland and the real world is because she's lived such a hard life. Out in reality, she's been played with too hard and abandoned. In Barbieland, she's been completely ostracized and separated from the other dolls. In both worlds, Weird Barbie has an outsider perspective, something that almost always helps a person see things more clearly.

Throughout the course of the movie, Stereotypical Barbie learns all about the real world, humanity, and the deep struggles that humans go through. By the end of the movie, she understands just as much, if not more, than Weird Barbie did back at the beginning — but she had to suffer to get there. That same logic applies to Weird Barbie. She knows more than anyone else in Barbieland, but only because she's been through more suffering and trauma than anyone else.

Weird Barbie is immune to patriarchy

Ken (Ryan Gosling) flourished during his time in the real world. He found a place where men were prioritized over women and discovered a whole system — patriarchy — that enables huge swaths of society to be biased in favor of men. He might have only gained a child's understanding of the concept, but that was enough to bring patriarchy back to Barbieland, which basically runs on child logic anyway.

To convert Barbieland to Kendom, Ken had to put the Barbies through an elaborate brainwashing process that got them to give up their own lives in favor of waiting hand and foot on the Kens. He instituted an explicit version of patriarchy that didn't just give men some extra privilege but actually had them lording over the women of Barbieland. His plan almost worked perfectly, but one Barbie didn't come around to see things his way.

Weird Barbie was able to completely resist the brainwashing and never bought into Ken's patriarchy. It's possible that the Kens, like the other Barbies, avoid Weird Barbie at all costs, but it seems more likely that Weird Barbie had some built-in patriarchy resistance. Like Stereotypical Barbie, Weird Barbie has been through hard times and understands as much as she can about the real world. Each of them was able to use that deeper understanding to resist Ken's new man-and-horse-centric philosophy. Weird Barbie couldn't be brainwashed, so she helped reverse the brainwashing that had happened to everyone else.

Weird Barbie expresses sexuality

The Barbies may have their own houses and even full-time jobs, but that doesn't mean they're real adults. Obviously, there's plenty about being human that the Barbies don't understand, and when it comes to the most grown-up parts of life, they really behave more like children. When Ken asks to stay the night at Barbie's house, he readily admits that he has no idea what the two of them would do when they're alone.

Kids might not understand the nuances of adult relationships, but they're definitely curious. That's one reason why Barbies make such fantastic toys out in the real world. In an interview with Fandango, Kate McKinnon said that playing with dolls like Barbie is one way that kids can start exploring what adulthood might be like. "It's a way of expressing your innermost desires," she said, with a knowing look toward the camera.

That sense of exploring desire is perfectly captured by Weird Barbie. She's the only one in Barbieland who openly expresses some degree of sexuality. She tells Barbie that she'd "Like to see what kind of nude blob [Ken is] packing under those jeans," which is both a hilarious joke and an immediately familiar thought for anyone who's played with dolls when they were younger. In that way at least, Weird Barbie might be more human than anyone else in Barbieland.

Weird Barbie is an allegorical character

One of the best things about "Barbie" is that it has so much to say about our lives out here in the real world. The Barbies are toys and exist in a childish state of mind, but their journey through the movie helps them grow up a little, or in some cases more than a little. In the same way, the movie has enough entertaining visuals and laugh-out-loud jokes to hold the attention of children, but there are plenty of deeper messages for adults and moments that could potentially help viewers of all ages grow.

Ken learns about patriarchy; Stereotypical Barbie goes through a journey that's representative of the self-discovery and identity-making that we all go through; and Stereotypical Barbie also carries some assumptions about gender and sexuality that the movie goes a long way toward breaking down. But there's another character who stands out from the get-go. Fans have called out that Weird Barbie speaks to them about queer identity, and they love it.

As one reviewer noted, "'Weird' Barbie is clearly a euphemism for Queer Barbie ... and the rag-tag team she assembles in her house when patriarchy takes over Barbie land also indicates that they are a queer bunch." Weird Barbie doesn't clearly fit into any preconceived notions about identity, and she never has a problem with that. In fact, it's because she's "weird" that she's able to help save Barbieland at all. Weird Barbie is just one more way that "Barbie" tries to speak to a larger audience and to teach everyone a little something about living in the real world.