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This Barbie is Going to the Cinema

A picture of a Barbie doll

Staff Writer Joseph Gallyot explores the cultural context of the upcoming “Barbie” movie – the classic plastic candy floss story with a darker undertone.

Greta Gerwig’s Barbie movie, starring Margot Robbie and Ryan Gosling as Barbie and Ken, is set for release on 21 July. It follows Barbie and Ken as they leave Dreamland for the real world. The release of trailers, and a supporting single by Dua Lipa, has begun to tease what is sure to be a summer culture highlight.

As the 76th edition of the Cannes Film Festival came to a close, many will reflect on this year’s show for its artistry and continual dedication to championing the film industry, with many notable previews. However, bringing the festival to an unofficial close was the Versace Pre-Fall collection titled “La Vacanza”. Simply translated as “The Holiday”, this collection serves as Dua Lipa’s first foray into a fashion collection with style icon Donatella Versace. The show took place in Cannes, with the runway extending over an infinity pool looking out across the Mediterranean. Presenting in an almost artificial fantasy, this show is sublime with a clear reference to Barbie. Big bouffant hair, pink in every shade, and Versace chain mail, culminate in a collection that pulls the audience into a Malibu Barbie fantasy.

Within 24 hours of the Versace show, Dua Lipa dropped the music video for her disco single “Dance the Night”. True to her “Future Nostalgia” sound, this video looks into Dreamland, with movie clips spliced together with Dua Lipa’s pastel vision. The singer is also set to star as Mermaid Barbie in the film. Vogue coined the term ‘Barbiecore’ as a way of encapsulating this trend of Barbie-inspired looks and style. But what becomes clear is that everyone’s favourite plastic toy is set to grip the world this summer.

Stills from the film show a pink-washed landscape with all the typical 60s Barbie codes woven throughout Dreamland. Production designer Sarah Greenwood spoke to Architectural Digest of the international pink paint shortage caused by the production of the film alone. Architectural Digest also unveiled Barbie’s house and other sets used in the film and further proving Gerwig’s commitment to a total immersion into pink and plastic.

These promotional materials are serving well to promote Gerwig’s film, which she both wrote and directed. Her creative decisions for this film, have created a screenplay that refers to the earlier work of Mary Pipher and her book “Reviving Ophelia”. The reference text tells the relentlessly paining story of female adolescence in America and the unfortunate prejudice girls face. Gerwig notes how Barbie was created long before Ken; inverting the typical Genesis story, Ken serves only to support Barbie as a brand. This is likely to be referenced throughout the movie as Barbie leaves Dreamland to face 21st-century America and the demands it places on women.

Aside from Gerwig’s pertinent metaphor, themes of artifice and tangibility are set to be probed. Gleaming pink skies and crystalline beaches will project a fantasy in an almost theatrical way – Gerwig has noted the importance of this element of the film and the contrast that comes later in the screenplay.

This film is likely to be a box office success with a strong concept, A-List cast, and immense production values. It is set to face strong competition, however, from Christopher Nolan’s Oppenheimer, a film about the development of the atomic bomb released on the same day. Whilst vastly different in nearly every way, both Warner Bros and Universal have become embroiled in a clash about moving release dates. Despite this and an impassioned plea from Tom Cruise, both studios remain resolute in releasing on their originally planned dates. Universal Studios’ war thriller film facing threat from the Barbie film shows how immense this release is likely to be.

When the Barbie film is released later in the summer, Gerwig’s creative direction will be revealed in full. It is already nuanced in its approach and will undoubtedly become part of the cultural conversation. Barbie looks campy, kitsch, and vibrant with an undeniable sense of fun. This will make the Barbie Film an essential summer viewing for all audiences.

The Barbie film is released in the UK on 21 July with the soundtrack coming out on the same day.

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