If there was ever a director who could manipulate feminists into watching a glossed-up film about a gentile doll with impossible measurements, it’s Greta Gerwig.
In a subversive wink at film critics chomping at the bit to pan the new Barbie film, Gerwig and Warner Bros. Pictures dropped the first trailer Friday—a parody of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. All the leaked set photos in the world could never have prepared us for Margot Robbie as good-time gal Barbie through a Kubrick lens.
We’ve long known the film’s dazzling cast included Robbie as the titular character, with Ryan Gosling, Issa Rae, Ncuti Gatwa, Kingsley Ben-Adir, and Simu Liu rounding out the rest of the ensemble. But we’ve finally got our first real peek into the Valentino-pink Barbie verse, and Gerwig’s world of plastic and vanity is nothing if not high-brow camp.
Though the trailer contains zero plot reveals—musical dance routines, a dizzying amount of pink gingham, and Ken (Ryan Gosling) as a lacrosse bro aside—it does give us a cinematic CT scan of Gerwig’s brain and her approach to mythologizing the distinctly curvy ditz who enchanted as many young girls as she gave body dysmorphia to.
I see Gerwig playing this one of two ways. Barbie could, as my Jezebel colleague Rich Juzwiak wrote about the recently released Avatar sequel, very well be “a marvel of world-building, a visual feast with mostly empty calories…Really, it’s just vibes.” With cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto signed onto the project, known for his work with Martin Scorsese and Alejandro González Iñárritu, as well as the critically acclaimed films Brokeback Mountain, Babel, Argo, and The Wolf of Wall Street (another Robbie vehicle), it’s likely the film could be as delightfully fluffy and functionally unfulfilling as cotton candy.
But I also believe Gerwig’s too smart to take on a consumer product-driven property without a biting point of view, or at least an acknowledgment of the dystopian fantasy that is Barbie’s beauty, proportions, and apparent vapidity. There’s a feminist lens in Gerwig’s toolbox, and I’m hoping she employs it in an irreverent, tongue-in-cheek fashion. With appearances from Will Ferrell, America Ferrera, Michael Cera, Kate McKinnon, Rhea Perlman, Emerald Fennell, Hari Nef, Sharon Rooney, Jamie Demetriou, Alexandra Shipp, Scott Evans, Emma Mackey, and Connor Swindells, there’s plenty of opportunity to infuse political humor about the delusional pedestal we all put the Barbie archetype on in the film.
Then again, pretty things sell, and I do enjoy pretty movies. I only hope this particular pretty movie will comment on who gets to be pretty, and how Barbie herself left a lot of little girls feeling very un-glamourous indeed.