Wednesday, February 21, 2024

2024 Academy Awards Best Picture Nominee - Barbie


Cathy's Review:  When a movie is about a toy, has a ridiculous plot starting with a parody of 2001: A Space Odyssey, includes madcap adventures to heal rips in the space/time continuum and ends with someone who is actually excited to visit the gynecologist, it's probably a fluff piece, right?


Barbie is a slightly-sharp-edged satire, slyly mocking the patriarchy (the "Mattel" board was depicted as all-male as a stand-in for companies in general, though the real Mattel is much more gender-balanced), mocking itself (it doesn't shy away from pointing out Barbie's role in promoting unhealthy beauty standards), mocking many modern ideas ("I worked hard, so I deserve it [Nobel Prize]"), and just about everything else. 

The acting is amazing - Margot Robbie and Ryan Gosling pull off something miraculous, and they allowed me to suspend my disbelief and believe for a couple of hours that dolls came to life, experiencing the real world in a manner that was reminiscent of Rip Van Winkle, or maybe Frankenstein's monster (but funny), viewing the world with rose-colored-glasses (see what I did there?) until they couldn't anymore. Even the less important doll characters were portrayed well, with more knowledge and personality than the blow-up doll in Serenity, but less maybe than famous fictional androids like C3PO, Roy Batty, Data or Bishop.

Barbie is visually spectacular. There are hints of Wizard of Oz, showing Barbieland in brilliant saturated colors (lots of pink!) while the real world appears almost desaturated by comparison.  It's still in color, of course, but the symbolism is clear - the real world can never be as pretty nor as idealized as the world of imagination. It will always have problems to solve.

The movie isn't perfect - there are occasional pacing issues, and it frenetically packs too much into too short of time. It's hard to focus on any one thing when EVERYTHING is impactful, and it rushes, no sprints through the plot, overwhelming the viewer at times. It's like watching a movie on fast-forward and slowing down for the occasional important part. 

As a feminist movie, Barbie doesn't really present anything new or earth-shaking. There's really no new paradigm here.  Instead, it collects every single feminist idea and nearly every common event women experience and puts them on display.  It's a museum of women's experiences under the patriarchy, tied up in a pretty pink bow.  

There has been some controversy over the Academy Award nominations: While Barbie was one of the top 10 movies nominated, Greta Gerwig was passed over for Best Director and Margot Robbie for Best Actress, and the irony does indeed burn, particularly since Ryan Gosling was nominated for Best Actor.  People have (rightly) pointed out that it's hard to narrow it down - for someone to be included in the top 5, someone else has to be passed over.  For Best Director, I have seen (or will see) all 5 movies, and I can confidently say that Martin Scorsese who directed the deeply flawed Killers of the Flower Moon, should have been passed over, and Gerwig should have been nominated instead. Best Actress is a little harder; Lily Gladstone deserves her nomination for Killers, and I won't see Annette Benning's performance in Nyad anytime soon and I haven't yet seen Emma Stone's performance in Poor Things.  But I think I'd put Margot Robbie on the list ahead of either Sandra Hüller (Anatomy of a Fall) or Carey Mulligan (Maestro).  Both women did excellent work, but neither of them believably portrayed a living doll which seems a much more difficult accomplishment.

Chris's review: I was kind of disappointed by my first viewing of Barbie and I'm really glad we just rewatched it. There had been so much hoopla about the feminist message* that I expected there to be something to really glory over. Instead, it turned out to be just a very well-done, pretty clever movie with a mild feminist message and over-the-top visuals. The lead Barbie and Ken are very well acted, and supported by a host of other characters (many of whom are also Barbies and Kens). The visuals are stunning and the soundtrack is supportive of the story. There are many cute elements about the nature of being a plastic toy while also being sort of a person. There was a lot of attention to detail -- hundreds of little embellishments, none of which are individually worth mention but all together really flesh out the movie's interface.

*Because of the above-mentioned hoopla, it's worth talking a little bit about that phenomenon. I didn't follow it closely, but I got the distinct sense from some quarters that there was a powerful feminist message and from others that it was an attack on manhood or 'murica or...y'know...something. Neither of these really feel true to me. I didn't feel attacked, as a man, even slightly. There's plenty of discussion of patriarchy but it's largely tongue-in-cheek. And honestly, most of the grit of the feminist message seemed to be discussing how hard women make it to be a woman.

(Pithy Reviews; and Rankings of 7 out of 10 nominees):

  • American Fiction (Brilliantly ironic smart comedy; Cathy: 1, Chris 2)
  • Past Lives (Excellent exploration of love and human connections; Cathy 3, Chris 1)
  • Barbie (Spectacular and sly doll's-eye-view of womanhood; Cathy 2, Chris 3)
  • The Holdovers (Very good teacher/student relationship story; Cathy 4, Chris 4)
  • Anatomy of a Fall (Beautiful courtroom drama; Cathy: 5, Chris: 6)
  • Killers of the Flower Moon (Important, badly-told story; Cathy: 6, Chris: 5)
  • Maestro (Gorgeous, well-acted boring slog; Cathy: 7, Chris: 7)

Currently unranked:

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