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Proust Barbie: The Weird Joke Greta Gerwig Thought She Would Never Get Away With

Barbie dolls are, unquestionably, toys; Greta Gerwig's movie, though, might not be meant for little kids. Sure, it's bright and colorful and is literally about people playing with dolls, but it's also about a major existential crisis, the patriarchy, what it means to be a woman in today's society, and endless millennial references for all of Gerwig's peers. That said, there are quite a few jokes that not everybody will quite get, and that's okay.

One of those jokes is about Marcel Proust, a French writer who's been dead for over a century. (Kids love Proust, as we all know.) As Stereotypical Barbie (Margot Robbie) is being coerced into returning to her original Barbie box, director Greta Gerwig says she basically snuck a joke into the finished movie. 

"There's lines in this movie, maybe one person will laugh at them," Gerwig told BBC's Radio 1. "Like when she says, 'I'm having a real Proustian flashback,' and [Will Ferrell's Mattel CEO] says, 'Remember Proust Barbie? That did not sell very well.' Things like that, I'm like, I can't believe we're writing these jokes into this movie. And it was like, so much of it felt so... in a way we did [write it for ourselves]." Proust wrote extensively about experiencing involuntary flashes of memories, so this joke is pretty brilliant — and it is kind of hard to believe Gerwig got it into the finished cut. 

Barbie is full of hilarious musical references definitely meant for adults

Beyond that (really great) Proust joke — as well as a moment where, as a reference to a now outdated definition of a fascist, Barbie weeps that she couldn't possibly be one because she controls neither the railways nor the flow of commerce — "Barbie" is also packed to the gills with excellent reference to music that will definitely fly right over the heads of younger viewers. First up is the reference to the Indigo Girls; as Barbie heads out of Barbie Land with Ken (Ryan Gosling) in tow to solve problems in the real world that are being reflected back into her perfect pink utopia, her car starts playing "Closer to Fine" by The Indigo Girls, and we soon learn it's the only song the car plays at all. 

Well, that's not entirely true. It's the only song Barbie's pink car plays until Ken launches a coup and takes over Barbie Land, turning it into his Kendom. Later on, when Gloria (America Ferrera), Sasha (Ariana Greenblatt), and Allan (Michael Cera) are back in the car trying to escape Barbie Land in its current state, the station switches to Ken's favorite song... which turns out to be "Push" by Matchbox 20. This eventually rewards audiences with a scene where all of the Kens play that song "at" their respective Barbies for an interminably long time, crafting a pitch-perfect gag designed for people a bit older than your average kid.

In Barbie, Gerwig masterfully skewers mansplaining — which kids wouldn't understand

Perhaps the funniest plotline in "Barbie" is the film's climax, where a couple of Barbies who haven't yet been brainwashed by the patriarchal Kens devise a plan to turn the newly powerful dolls against one another. First, they un-brainwash the Barbie hostages by placing a decoy in front of their Kens who doesn't know how to use Photoshop, can't figure out how to manage her money, isn't familiar with Pavement, or best of all, hasn't seen "The Godfather" and really needs it explained to her. (The way that Issa Rae, playing President Barbie, utters the word "god-FAA-ther" is one of the movie's best line readings, which is saying something.) 

The way that "Barbie" tackles this specific brand of mansplaining, wherein women sometimes placate their partners by asking for explanations of things they definitely already know, is certainly not for kids who haven't experienced this particular frustration yet. Even just the sheer amount of times the movie mentions the patriarchy — something that didn't escape the notice of failed screenwriter Ben Shapiro — feels inaccessible to kids, but that's okay. This movie was written by Greta Gerwig and Noah Baumbach. It's not like you should be sitting your kids down to check out "Marriage Story" or "Lady Bird" either.

"Barbie" is in theaters now.