"Barbie" swept through its box office earnings in just the first few days of release, but did it live up to the expectations it formed for nearly a year?
“Barbie” swept through its box office earnings in just the first few days of release, but did it live up to the expectations it formed for nearly a year?.
It all begins with a riff, not just any riff, but a very recognizable one that marks the origin of a whole: the opening of Stanley Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey”. A narrating voice accompanies the symphony while we see in the middle of a prehistoric landscape how a group of girls smash the heads of their baby dolls against stones before the revelation of something never seen before Barbie. This is how Greta Gerwig’s new film begins, who in 2019 was announced as the director of the project to make “Barbie,” which had been under construction since 2014 and had its ups and downs. And why would a Barbie movie be relevant at a time when there is a social and, above all, feminist awakening?
The choice of Gerwig not only as a director but also as a screenwriter, along with Noah Bauchman, was not free. It was a strategy that worked perfectly for Warner Bros. and Mattel. Since more than a year ago, when the first photos of the filming of “Barbie” went viral, those of us who loved the doll during our childhood had no choice but to give in to nostalgia. The good news for those of us who grew up and realized the stereotypical baggage we have due (in part) to our favorite doll was that the film would be directed by someone who understands those baggage and who, in a way, was already seen as a filmmaker with feminist strokes. Gerwig was the one who gave “Barbie” credibility in the eyes of the most critical and skeptical and allowed it to become the media, commercial and cultural boom.
That credibility was consolidated with the teaser released in December last year. It precisely showed part of the ingenious Kubrickian prologue in which it is impossible not to fall in love. Since then, the hype has only grown. Memes, #BarbieCore, TikTok, and everything related to the product filled the social networks. However, this success responds to the marketing strategy. After seeing it, it is worth asking if it lived up to the expectations that were formed for more than a year and generated a whole cultural movement.
The Hits and Misses of “Barbie”.
Beyond its spectacular marketing strategy, “Barbie” managed to get several aspects right, most notably the production and costume design by Sarah Greenwood and Jacqueline Durran, respectively. They managed to capture the essence of the product and set the precedent of plastic and the absurdly perfect world in which houses have no walls; the sea is a blueprint with a few plastic waves in relief, modeled food and showers without water. How this world is constructed allows the viewer to not only be amused by the absurdity of the situation but also to remember the experiences of play.
This inclination towards nostalgia reaches the viewer through the incredible acting performances, among which the protagonists stand out. Margot Robbie perfectly embodied the idyllic doll with blonde hair, a body, and a perfect smile. However, she also perfectly transited to show us that perfect doll before a world in which, contrary to what she believed, she is not loved, and her perfection comes to nothing. Her performance not only amuses us but also manages to touch deep fibers.
For his part, Ryan Gosling, who has the duty of playing a Ken whose existence revolves solely and exclusively around being Barbie’s boyfriend, gives a masterful performance. Not only is it hilarious, but it also manages to exploit the idea of a man discovering his masculinity in a way that is so absurd and so real that it reaches the viewers to reveal ideas that run through us.
On the other hand, Gerwig assured in several interviews that this would not be the typical Barbie movie and that the script was built from the provocative. These ideas set expectations very high. And well, it’s not that the writing isn’t novel; it’s just that it’s inconsistent.
At the beginning of the film, with the prologue, a tone is established that responds to the satirical and clever comedy that goes through the most beautiful and sweetest of Barbie to turn it into something absurd, that makes fun of itself, and even becomes depressive. The script builds on the idea that the Barbies believe they have solved real-world women’s problems by simply being them. Likewise, the knot is created by the fact that, in the real world, whoever plays with the stereotypical Barbie transfers her anxieties and sadness to the doll so that she is no longer perfect and must undertake a journey to the real world to be herself again. A simple problem, the typical hero’s journey, built a great movie through a good beginning and a witty comedy.
However, the direction after the first half hour went from being witty to becoming repetitive and, paradoxically, inconsistent. The clever jokes about Barbie as a product kept popping up whenever possible, even if they were unnecessary. On the other hand, other scenes opted for more basic tricks, which partly responded to the typical American and commercial comedy.
It is a surprise to find a script that responds so much to that commercial in a director like Gerwig, known for her extremely consistent and intelligent hands that reach the viewers in every possible way. With “Barbie,” she managed to amuse, think and even make people cry, but it did not live up to the expectations it brought, not only the idea of Barbie but its very name. In short, it is not a bad movie; it is perfect, and it entertains and fulfills its purpose, but it is different from what it seems to be for many, and it is not subversive. Its more commercial level ate up what it could have been.