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In Appreciation of Allan: The Unsung Hero of the ‘Barbie’ Movie

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A young man with neat brown hair smiles and waves under blue skies. He is wearing a multicolored striped shirt with a patch that says HORSES on it.
Michael Cera as Allan in Greta Gerwig’s ‘Barbie.’ (Warner Bros.)

In the seven months since the first trailer for Greta Gerwig’s Barbie dropped, audiences have come to expect a few things from the relentlessly promoted film: to be dazzled by the campy pink landscapes, charmed by Margot Robbie and Ryan Gosling, and deeply conflicted — at best — about what amounts to a feature-length Mattel commercial. (According to some sources, the company has up to 45 more movies based on toys in the works.) Walking into the theater, I anticipated some laughs, some cringing, some feminist ambivalence.

What I did not expect was to walk out obsessed with a character I previously barely knew existed: Allan.

Allan has been an under-appreciated hero in the world of Barbie from the very beginning. Introduced as “Ken’s buddy” in 1964, the doll’s main selling point was that he could wear all of Ken’s clothes. Allan’s other job was being the groom to Midge — Barbie’s less glamorous best friend — and a father to their three children. When Ken was busy at the beach or sunning himself by the pool, Allan was just out there being a solid partner and a good dad. And what thanks did he get? He was around for just two years after Mattel introduced him, and brought back only briefly in 1991 and 2002.

It makes sense, then, that Allan is very much a side character in Barbie. But in Michael Cera’s hands, he routinely steals the show. Just as Margot Robbie’s beauty and inherent likability make her the quintessential Barbie, and Ryan Gosling’s comedy chops and chiseled features make him a fantastic Ken, Cera is the right combination of cute-but-weird to make Allan make sense. There are a few things that miss the mark in the movie (including a weird, overstrung ending), but casting is most definitely not one of them.

A young man with a waxy complexion and neatly combed brown hair, smiles broadly, mid-dance move. He is wearing a multicolored striped shirt with white collar.
There is only one Allan, and that’s why he’s so splendid. (Warner Bros.)

The crux of Barbie‘s plot goes like this: Barbie and all her Barbie friends are living in Barbieland, having the best day ever, every single day. The Kens are around and fun companions, but it’s the Barbies who are running things. This is a world where every night is girls’ night, the Supreme Court looks like a Miss America pageant, and no one knows where the Kens even live.

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One day, Robbie’s “stereotypical Barbie” starts having dark thoughts that disrupt her perfect existence. She is forced to go on a quest to the real world to try and fix whatever is wrong so she can return to oblivious joy. Along the way, there are lessons about female solidarity, the insidiousness of the patriarchy and the complicated cultural deprogramming women must do in order to thrive.

Allan is around throughout, but he doesn’t entirely fit in with either the Barbies or the Kens. That element is established early. As we see Barbie’s day unfold on screen for the very first time, all of the Barbies and all of the Kens are at the beach, taking the time to enthusiastically greet each other one-by-one. This goes on for some time. Then he appears, resplendent in his multicolored striped shirt and blue shorts, somewhat off to one side.

“Hi Barbie!” Allan calls.

“Oh, hi Allan!” Barbie smiles back.

And then a Helen Mirren voiceover pipes up to let the audience know: “There are no multiples of Allan. He’s just Allan.”

“Yeah,” Allan says, shifting awkwardly. “I’m confused about that.”

Introducing Allan this way initially implies that his primary function in Barbie will be to serve up comic relief on the side, a little slice of understated in a relentlessly bright, shiny world. (Make no mistake, Barbie is very funny at times. Gags about The Godfather, Stephen Malkmus and Matchbox Twenty’s “Push” are worth the ticket price alone.) What becomes clear as the movie progresses, however, is that Allan isn’t just a consistent scene-stealer — he’s the movie’s moral center. And a lot of that is due to the fact that there’s only one Allan.

At its core, Barbie is a movie consumed with ideas around self-determination and independence. Each of the characters, at one time or another, has to carve out their own path and find autonomy — all except for Allan. Because Allan starts out as one of a kind, he already knows exactly who he is. He never wavers from doing what he knows is right, never swayed by the status or power of others.

While the Kens are fighting one another, Allan helps the Barbies with an important task. When the Kens learn how to be sexist, Allan — immediately uncomfortable around performative and toxic masculinity — decides to team up with the Barbies to put a stop to it. Allan is a lover, not a fighter, but he’s tougher than all of the Kens put together when an emergency situation calls for it. Allan gives a lot, but asks for nothing. He’s independently minded. Above all, Allan is an ally.

Four women in pink jumpsuits and sunglasses peak out of the back doors of a van. Partially obscured in the back is a man in the same pink jumpsuit.
Allan, almost invisible, in the back of a van, wearing a pink jumpsuit, helping out two Barbies and a couple of human women. Because that’s what Allan does, dammit. (Warner Bros.)

In a movie that is often frustratingly heavy-handed with its lessons, Allan’s awesomeness somehow manages to slip under the radar, always providing the best examples of how to behave without directly signposting it. So when you do finally see Barbie, just go into the theater knowing that Allan is the one to watch. Because in an ego-driven world of Barbies and Kens, being an Allan — one-of-a-kind when everyone around you defaults to following the crowd — is simply the coolest way to go.

‘Barbie’ hits theaters nationwide on Friday, July 21, 2023.

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