Like the author of the book Living Dolls: The Return of Sexism, Natasha Walter, recently put it, “In a world in which women are told they can be anything, too often they still have to be dolls as well.” Perfect and neat at all times, be what is needed of them.

In Barbie, brought to us after all by Mattel, the creator of the eponymous doll, the reverse is also seeking to be true: Now that there is a Barbie who can be everything, she has to be a woman as well. But should we look for women in our dolls or dolls in our women? Surely feminism is beyond this point already.

However, this film by the talented Greta Gerwig, co-written by her with her partner Noah Baumbach, is seeking to reinvent Barbie for an age where asking questions is more important than the patience for answers, and where choices are always either or: a stiletto or a Birkenstock, a Ken or a can be, patriarchy or war of the genders.

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And still, the film is about the “stereotypical Barbie” — thin, tall and beautiful — finding herself. Not the pregnant (and discarded) Barbie, not the Weird Barbie dressed like a clown, not the President or Doctor Barbie, or the one in space. Trying to turn the gaze inwards into the phenomenon of the doll and its many reinventions to stay relevant, Gerwig sticks to the one Barbie who will go down most palatably.

The film’s highest points are when Robbie’s Barbie ventures into the “real world”, out from Barbie Land, on discovering to her horror that she is developing cellulite on her thighs and her feet have gone flat, no longer arched like the heels she wears. She has had thoughts of death lately — equated actually with cellulite in one scene — and it’s been all “downhill” since.

Now Robbie’s Barbie must go into the real world, and find out what’s troubling the owner of her doll version, which through “space continuum” blah-blah is rubbing off on her too. Gosling’s Ken hops along for the ride, and Barbie realises almost immediately that, contrary to what they have been told in Barbie Land, creation of dolls in the image of powerful people who run the world doesn’t mean that Barbies have changed the real world.

It’s men who run things here, unlike Barbie Land, where the Kens are mere apendages to the Barbies. Gosling’s Ken, hence, can’t have enough of what he finds in the real world. Barbie meanwhile is shocked at every turn about what she discovers.

Almost quickly though, when the film is getting into its stride about how a Barbie and Ken would fit in, in the real world, we are transported back into Barbie Land. The real-word mother-daughter pair who own Robbie’s Barbie doll version come along.

You can’t shake off the feeling of the overarching Mattel influence on the film, in raising questions about Barbie and what it means or doesn’t for real women, but ensuring that the most uncomfortable ones land as feeble jokes or are kept to the background.

Gerwig is an inspired choice because of the reputation she has built with films like Lady Bird and Little Women, and her touch is there in the small jabs at the gender wars, in the meta awareness of Barbie being — at its heart — a thing of beauty to be admired. And undoubtedly loved, by many. Helen Mirren, as narrator, commenting at one point in the film that casting Robbie was the whole point of Barbie actually never being ugly is too glib for its own good.