an illustration of the barbie promotional image
Illustration by Carmel Ada, American Academy of Art
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an illustration of the barbie promotional image
Illustration by Carmel Ada, American Academy of Art

A year ahead of release, the film has already left a pink mark on pop culture.

A live-action “Barbie” film is a year away from its 2023 release, but audiences are already buzzing from set leaks and cast lists, ready for the colorful and fun comedy.

An Accomplished Director

The film first entered development in 2014, and despite many artists being attached to the project, no director was tapped for the comedy. In July 2021, Oscar-nominated director Greta Gerwig signed on to direct and write the feature alongside her Oscar-nominated partner, Noah Baumbach. It’s rare that high-profile and esteemed directors take on comedies — even blockbuster comedies. Gerwig previously directed 2017’s “Lady Bird” and 2019’s “Little Women,” both incredibly well-realized female-led films with a strong sense of style. While “Lady Bird” is a drama with comedy and “Little Women” is equal parts drama and romance, “Barbie” aims to be a more lighthearted comedy with the storytelling and underlying (hopefully pink) style to allow it to match her previous entries. Choosing Gerwig for this production instills hope that the feature is not simply a two-hour commercial.

A New Direction 

Comedian and actress Amy Schumer was first cast in the role as Barbie, but left the project in 2017 due to creative differences. It was said that the film would follow and comment on the experience of a Barbie that was exiled from Barbieland for not being perfect. Because of Schumer’s own comedic style and previous work exploring insecurity, there is a clear vision of what this film could have been. It was refreshing at the time to see Schumer, a woman who doesn’t uphold unrealistic beauty standards, cast in the role. However, Schumer’s public reception has been rocky in the last few years: She’s been accused of stealing jokes, making tone-deaf comments and the few Kirsten Dunst fans thought her Oscar seat-filler joke was insensitive. Because of her divisiveness and the fact this film is expected to be a blockbuster, her exit was likely the best decision — especially considering that although the message of the original film was endearing, she explored it similarly in her 2018 comedy, “I Feel Pretty.” The role of Barbie has since been recast to star the award-winning actress Margot Robbie.

It is uncertain if Gerwig will explore similar themes to Schumer’s film, but a potential leak from a secret LetterBoxd account belonging to the film’s new star might have some insight. The account “MaggieAckerly” — Maggie being one of Robbie’s childhood nicknames — hints at a new direction for the film. The account had a small watch list dedicated to films to watch for two of Robbie’s upcoming films. A watchlist for “Barbie” included “The Truman Show,” “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg,” “Splash,” “Puberty Blues” and “The Young Girls of Rochefort.” If this account is to be trusted — it was conveniently deleted not long after its discovery — the film will explore divine costumes and illusionary and campy elements.

A Stunning Cast

The cast in its entirety is not only explicitly gorgeous, but incredibly diverse. Margot Robbie and Ryan Gosling lead the film as Barbie and Ken, with a rumored supporting cast of fellow Barbies and Kens. The cast includes Simu Liu, Issa Rae, America Ferrera, Ncuti Gatwa, Alexandra Shipp and many more, not to mention the incredible transgender actress and artist Hari Nef. The internet also went ablaze to hear that actress Emma Mackey joined the production early this year, a move coming after years of people confusing the “Sex Education” star for Robbie and touting her as one of Margot’s many doppelgangers in Hollywood.

Promising Set Leaks

The recent set leaks for this film have sent the internet into a tailspin, to the point that the memes for this film, a year ahead of its release, are competing with memes for films currently in theaters. While it is said filming has already begun indoors in London, several scenes shot at Venice Beach and Los Angeles quickly circled around the internet. Barbie and Ken’s coordinating ensembles are not just well crafted, but so explicitly toy-like it’s remarkable; the costumes and aesthetic scream Barbie, with nods to bright films such as “Xanadu” and “Enchanted,” pointing toward a film that exudes joy. This is elevated by the contrast of filming on Venice Beach — already a unique setting; the hilarious interactions between the cast and crew and the confused beachgoers contribute to the internet’s love for the film.

The best part for Gerwig and Warner Bros. is how the film is seamlessly cementing its place in pop culture. They’ve only released a character tease for Barbie and Ken, but the set leaks and casting announcements alone have generated a fully formed fandom that predates the film. “Barbie” isn’t the first to do this — Ridley Scott’s “House of Gucci” had almost all the major costumes and scenes photographed during filming, but the hype that was generated didn’t have the same impact as the upcoming Gerwig film. That could be due to familiarity with the property, as Barbie is a global brand. If the set photos and costuming were at all disappointing the internet would notice, but the high quality and immediate approval have allowed this film to soar.

Writer Profile

Kylie Clifton

Loyola Marymount University
Journalism

Originally from Michigan, Kylie loves trying new foods, asking questions and curating outfits. She’s passionate about all kinds of diverse reporting, especially with film and television.

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