Why Barbie should win the best picture Oscar

<span>Don’t underestimate it … Ryan Gosling and Margot Robbie in Barbie.</span><span>Photograph: Courtesy Warner Bros. Pictures/AP</span>
Don’t underestimate it … Ryan Gosling and Margot Robbie in Barbie.Photograph: Courtesy Warner Bros. Pictures/AP

If there’s one thing the Oscars are usually sniffy about, it’s a mainstream blockbuster. They may garner nominations but winning is a different matter altogether. But Greta Gerwig’s Barbie, an effervescent comedy about the world’s most famous doll that wraps up a zingy dissection of the patriarchy, women’s lack of power and mortality in a bright bow, is not your standard blockbuster. And that’s exactly why it deserves that best picture Oscar.

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Meryl Streep wasn’t being hyperbolic when she credited Barbie for saving the film industry and “all of our jobs” at this year’s Palm Springs film awards. It became 2023’s highest grossing film and the 14th highest-grossing film of all time after cashing in $1.4bn at the worldwide box office. Barbie swept in like a pastel-hued tsunami through an industry that had been sluggish since the pandemic, with cinemas failing to get as many people through the door as they had pre-Covid.

It’s true that the Oscars have never been about box office receipts. But Barbie became a true cultural phenomenon. It resurrected cinema and if that isn’t enough to win a statuette, I don’t know what is. And there’s a good reason why people turned up in droves, dressed up in pink, to watch Barbie and then returned for multiple viewings. That’s because it is a genuinely great film; one of the most offbeat, subversive and surreal blockbusters that we’ve seen in recent times.

Barbie’s journey towards self-realisation, when she crosses over into the real world, takes in feminism, sexism and toxic masculinity, but does so in a way that is still playful and always humorous. And most importantly, Barbie is fun. So much fun! Gerwig and Noah Baumbach’s script is stacked with jokes that sparkle as fiercely as Barbie’s gold disco jumpsuit. Surely it merits a win for its sardonic jibe at Zack Snyder’s cut of Justice League alone?

And the brilliant ensemble cast, which includes America Ferrera, Issa Rae, Kate McKinnon, Simu Liu, and Michael Cera, look as if they’re having a ball. Their infectious energy beams like a warm glow from the screen. Margot Robbie is the beating heart of Barbie, playing the character with endearing wide-eyed wonder as she grapples with burgeoning self-awareness. While Ryan Gosling throws himself into his role as the lovelorn, eternally sidelined Ken, whose sharply defined abs, love for horses and slick dance moves aren’t quite enough to win her over. It’s one of the funniest performances of 2023, and his “I’m Just Ken” dance number, a homage to Singin’ in the Rain, is just sublime.

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For all its strengths, let’s not kid ourselves that Barbie is anything but an outsider when it comes to best picture. Barbie may have successfully overthrown a patriarchal revolution from the Kens in Barbie Land, but the Academy is an even harder institution to shake up. I worry that Barbie is emitting some serious “Kenergy” as a contender; despite supporting the industry so handsomely financially, it’s not really being taken that seriously. Some have noted how it plays out more like an extended advert for Mattel.

But as Barbie’s success shows, you should never underestimate it; beyond its good looks (Those gorgeous costumes! Those incredible sets!) and high-spirited charm, it’s an endlessly inventive, smart and daring comedy tour de force that is more than worthy of any awards. So, even though it’s likely to be Oppenheimer announced on the night, I hope that the Academy realises that it’s time to trade in gold statuettes for plastic dolls and celebrate the film that brought much-needed joy, laughter and crowds back to the cinema.