‘Let’s go party!’ Barbie readies to paint world pink

Friday, 21 July 2023 00:05 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}


PARIS (AFP): The world is about to be hit by a pink tsunami as “Barbie” – Hollywood’s ironic new take on the doll feminists once loved to hate – opens with a vast marketing campaign.

Not even an actors’ and writers’ strike has been able to put brakes on the juggernaut, with the first images of stars Margot Robbie as Barbie, and Ryan Gosling as her square-jawed boyfriend Ken, sending social media into a frenzy of fuchsia.

With the movie hitting big screens across Europe from Wednesday, and North America from Friday, expectation is building at how director and indie film darling Greta Gerwig has tackled the most flagrant of corporate product-placement vehicles. Many were surprised that the acclaimed feminist maker of “Little Women”, “Lady Bird” and “Frances Ha” would be tempted to take on a doll whose body is said to be so unrealistic she would not be able to walk if she were a real woman.

But already in the trailer, it is clear Gerwig’s take on Barbie is nothing if not tongue in cheek.

After a few perfect “life in plastic” days with the other Barbies in their bubblegum Californian world, she has her heroine kick off her high heels to put on a pair of sensible Birkenstock sandals to leave Barbie Land behind and plunge into the real world.

With Ryan Gosling camping it up as a breezily sexist Ken barechested under a fur coat, the two go AWOL, to the horror of toymaker Mattel. “If you hate Barbie, this movie is for you,” the trailer proclaims.

“The movie is packing so much in,” Robbie told AFP on the pink carpet of the London premiere.

Full of controversy

“There is so much joy, it’s hilarious, it’s very clever and it has a lot to say,” said the Australian actress, who is also one of the film’s producers. “It’s a crazy ride and a visual spectacle. I cannot think of another movie that is like it.” While critics say Barbie has brainwashed generations of young girls with an unattainable ideal of beauty and thinness, others see her as a figure of female emancipation through figures like Astronaut Barbie and Barbie the surgeon. Gerwig, 39, said her approach to tackling Barbie was “by not denying that she’s full of controversy. “In some ways Barbie has been ahead of culture, in some ways she has been behind it,” she told AFP. “But she has definitely been a topic of conversation for 64 years.” Chinese-born Simu Liu, who plays one of the many Kens in the movie, said he admired how Gerwig “doesn’t shy away from some of the criticisms of Barbie, some of the very valid criticisms of body image and of diversity... but still wraps it in an era of optimism and hope.” Issa Rae, of “Awkward Black Girl” fame, who plays one of the Barbies, said despite all the “negative associations”, for her Barbie went back to core memories of her childhood.

Girl power makeover 

“I think about telling stories with Barbies, making Barbies kiss and thinking about all the different questions I had about life, posing that onto Barbie,” she told AFP. “So people are very protective of her in that way.” Gerwig – who wrote her first hits about New York life with her partner, “Marriage Story” director Noah Baumbach – is next to take on another childhood cultural colossus by adapting the “Chronicles of Narnia” for Netflix.

While Barbie’s makers Mattel seemed happy to be cast as cartoon baddies in the trailer for the film, they are counting on the blockbuster giving their lodestar toy some “girl power” cred as she challenges the patriarchy. But behind Barbie’s Dayglo optimism, the turnover of Mattel’s dolls division fell by nine percent last year.

And the old sexist stereotypes have not been easy to airbrush away. Uniformly blonde and white for decades, Barbie has been going through a huge makeover since 2016 with 175 different models reflecting different colours and body types – “curvy, tall and petite” – as well as dolls with physical disabilities.