Can ‘Barbie’ avoid the ‘House Of Gucci’ pitfall?

Barbie Movie
Barbie Movie

Evan Ross Katz is In The Know’s pop culture contributor. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram for more.

Last month, nearly a year to the day before the film’s release, the highly anticipated Barbie finally wrapped production. There’s an old proverb that you already know: In this world, nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes. I have one to add: Greta Gerwig’s Barbie will be great. In fact, step aside Citizen Kane, because Barbie will be the best movie ever made. Film, actually. Filmé. Cinema! How, with no trailer, let alone a clip, can I know this to be certain? I can’t, and yet my unbridled confidence in such a statement is unwavering. Like the prophecy that told Buffy she would die in the Season 1 finale of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, it has simply been foretold. Don’t believe me? To quote Dakota Johnson: “Ask everybody.”

Starring seemingly everyone in Hollywood, the film, which is currently in production and set to be released in July of 2023, boasts a cast that includes Margot Robbie, Ryan Gosling, Will Ferrell, Simu Liu, Emma Mackey, America Ferrera, Kate McKinnon, Hari Nef, Issa Rae, Alexandra Shipp, Rhea Perlman, Ncuti Gatwa, Hailee Steinfeld, Kingsley Ben-Adir, Nicola Coughlan and more. In fact, fake casting announcements have become something of a meme template on Twitter thanks to the rollout of the robust cast list.

The film, which will be Gerwig’s third solo directorial feature after Academy Award-nominated work on 2017’s Lady Bird and 2019’s Little Women, was first announced back in 2009. At that point, producer Laurence Mark said that writers would be canvassed for what he said would be a “family-friendly movie” (translation: this would not be The Brady Bunch Movie.) It wasn’t until five years later, in 2014, that the film’s production showed any signs of a heartbeat when Sex and the City writer Jenny Bicks signed on to write the screenplay with a director still not yet attached. A year later, in 2015, Academy Award-winning screenwriter Diablo Cody was brought in to rewrite the script. By December of that year, Cody was out and three new writers were brought in to draft three new versions of the script. By 2016, Amy Schumer was in negotiations to star in the film. Three months later, in March 2017, she exited over scheduling. By July, Anne Hathaway was said to be circling the role. By October 2018, with Sony’s option expiring, the film was reshuffled to Warner Bros. with Margot Robbie in talks to star. By July 2019, Robbie finalized her deal to star with a new script by Gerwig and husband Noah Baumbach. Two years later, in July 2021, Gerwig was announced as the film’s director, with filming set to begin in early 2022.

*very Will Schuester from Glee voice* So that’s what you missed on the making of the Barbie movie.

Few pieces of intellectual property have as much public goodwill as Barbie, a childhood staple for generations of people. “The beauty of Barbie is that she both reflects and impacts culture,” says Kim Culmone, SVP, Global Head of Design Barbie & Fashion Dolls. “Today, Barbie is just as relevant, and in some ways even more relevant, than she has ever been. She is both timeless and timely.”

But what is it about this film that seems to have such a chokehold on the culture? Let’s examine.

It began, this Barbie fever, in nothing close to earnest back in April, when Warner Bros. shared the first official look of Robbie as Barbie during CinemaCon 2022. The image featured a smiley Robbie sitting in a pink Chevrolet Corvette convertible wearing a blue and white halter top with a blue and white polka dot headband (not the same shade of blue as the top) and a beaded bracelet in a third shade of blue. Two months later, in June, we got our first official look at Ryan Gosling’s Ken with his bleached blonde hair, frayed sleeveless jean jacket opened just enough to peak at his six-pack and the waistband of his underwear which subbed out “Calvin Klein” for “Ken.” According to a recent interview with Gosling, there’s always been a Ken inside of him. “It’s the role I was born to play, I’ve had this Ken-ergy if you will, and the Ken-ergy is alive in me now.”

Then came a stream of leaked images from the set.

While many on film Twitter and beyond gobbled them up like cowboy caviar, others voiced growing fatigue in the same way they did over leaked images from the set of And Just Like That… “[Greta Gerwig] deserves us not circulating her bits of her art before she can present it in its finished form,” argued Daily Beast reporter Kyndall Cunningham in a story with the headline: “The ‘Barbie’ Movie Set Photos Have Gotten Out of Control.” It’s a reaction not dissimilar to the one evoked during production of House of Gucci, which had rampant set photos that hyped a fandom that was ultimately unenthused by the final product. And yet here we are, nearly a year out from Barbie’s release, already beginning the drumbeat.

Margot Robbie and Ryan Gosling on the set of <em>Barbie</em> in June 2022. <br>(Photo by MEGA/GC Images)
Margot Robbie and Ryan Gosling on the set of Barbie in June 2022.
(Photo by MEGA/GC Images)

But does any of this indicate the film’s quality? As Every Outfit co-host Lauren Garroni points out, these days it seems like there is more discourse before a film than after, suggesting more interest in the “how” than the “what.” “Audience expectations and discourse for upcoming films is simultaneously destroying films and keeping the theatergoing experience alive,” she explains. “We want to be surprised when we see a hotly anticipated film and yet we demand to know every possible plot point in the film while it’s still filming.”

Garroni is hesitant to prognosticate too much on what Barbie will be, instead considering the options, which, given the outsized reaction thus far, seem to convey two possible outcomes. “It could be like The Social Network in the sense that so many incongruous elements come together to make a film that is better than it has any right to be. Or perhaps, it will be like House of Gucci where the creative forces behind it seem so perfect that the pendulum swings the other way and it misses the mark.”

Do I really believe Barbie will sit tucked between Citizen Kane and The Wizard of Oz in the pantheon of great cinema? I remain hopeful! But perhaps the larger consideration, as pointed out by Garroni, is more about audience’s rapidly changing diet around media consumption. I’m reminded of a Brandy quote from her 2012 appearance on 106 & Park: “We need the audience to buy the album.” In other words, hype is great, but will it plant butts in seats come July 2022? That is a question that no amount of set photos can help guarantee.

If you enjoyed this story, check out Evan Ross Katz on the reimagining of Anne Hathaway!

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