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The swing of July brings longer nights and midsummer fun. And everyone who is anyone wants to see Greta Gerwig’s new masterpiece starring Margot Robbie and Ryan Gosling. Barbie: it’s not baby fever this summer, it’s Barbie fever.
Gerwig has been teasing Barbie since 2020. She told IndieWire that Robbie approached her asking if she would be interested in writing it, and Gerwig said yes. She got her husband and fellow writer, Noah Baumbach (Marriage Story), to write with her. She recalled the conversation to IndieWire in the same article, “I think I had a six-month-old baby when I said yes? And I wasn’t necessarily running everything by him… It was in March of 2020 that Noah said, ‘Are we meant to be writing a Barbie movie?’ I said, ‘Yes.’ He said, ‘I don’t have any ideas for that! Why didn’t you sign us up to write a different thing?’ And I was like, ‘Because I have a feeling. I like Margot and I have a feeling.’”
When you’re expecting a baby, you do a lot of reading, preparing, and research to help ease the new change. With the help of director Gerwig’s Letterboxd watchlist, which contains 33 films to see, interviews from Barbie press, and my own Barbie brain, I’ve gathered a list of five movies to see before this summer’s baby, Barbie.
In fact, Gerwig organized a Barbie sleepover in London and invited a number of the film’s female cast. Margot Robbie said on The Kelly Clarkson Show that all the Barbies shared beds, wore pajamas, ordered room service, and played games. Get your group of Barbie besties and throw on a couple of these films. Get ready, the baby’s coming!
The Wizard of Oz (1939)
Somewhere there’s a definition of a sound stage movie, and right below it has to be The Wizard of Oz. Gerwig calls it “authentically artificial,” which is a theme she aimed for in Barbie as well. These huge elaborate sound stages with amazing color and shockingly gorgeous aesthetics.
The Wizard of Oz follows Dorothy (Judy Garland), a small farmgirl who loves her little dog. When a twister comes in the middle of her running away trying to save her dog, she scrambles to find shelter but ends up cuddled with her dog on her own bed. She gets whacked by a window and passes out to be woken up by the loudest thud in her life. She’s now in the brightest, most colorful, and most authentically artificial world ever.
The movie starts out with absolutely no color, just sepia browns and whites, then transforms as Dorothy opens this door to a brand-new world that neither she nor the audience has ever seen. It’s a bright brick road, it’s a bright blue sky contrasted with perfectly fake green bushes. But The Wizard of Oz was not the first Technicolor film. The Gulf Between was Technicolor’s first film back in 1917. It’s an easy misconception simply because the color of The Wizard of Oz is sensational.
The Wizard of Oz is actually playing in Barbieland on the little posters in the trailer, obviously a big inspiration for Barbie herself to maybe escape the bland life she’s living in. Barbie also has a big bright pink brick road and painted backdrops. Instead of skipping with a lion, a tin man, and a scarecrow like Dorothy, Barbie is driving a convertible on the road with Ken. Same thing.
If I say “There’s no place like a plastic palace” three times and click my bright pink plastic heels, I wonder if it’ll take me to Barbieland. There’s only one way to find out and maybe I’ll try it in theaters. And honestly, if you haven’t watched The Wizard of Oz, where are you?
The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964)
This is on everyone’s list before Barbie for the Technicolor wonderland that features entirely sung dialogue. At The Frida, we showed it in early July! The surrealness of the layering colors of this movie is gorgeous.
The Umbrellas of Cherbourg is named as a film for all the young lovers of the world. All dialogue is sung throughout the musical film, which led to an Oscar nomination. It’s about a beautiful young Frenchwoman (Catherine Deneuve), who works in a little boutique selling umbrellas. She falls for a mechanic (Nino Castelnuovo), Guy, and gets pregnant right before he gets drafted to serve in the Algerian War. I wouldn’t say watch this for Barbie simply because of the aesthetics; it’s a fantastic movie otherwise so watch it. The layering of color in this movie is the draw.
It’s a film that portrays the cliché of a first love, which would be all rainbows and kisses with dreams in other love films, but this couple is forced to live in the real world and confront their own circumstances.
“Everything feels painterly,” Gerwig said about The Umbrellas of Cherbourg to Letterboxd in her interview. The colors of the movie shoot different shades of pink and red all together in one shot without taking overwhelming attention away from the story.
It remains a timeless film of color, sadness, romance, and contemporary art. I think it’s stayed amazing because it’s a little piece of magic with a sprinkle of the conventions of opera. I think Barbie will take from big studios and get colorful but hopefully have an indie feel with Gerwig behind the wheel.
“It’s a musical about the 1950s, but made in the 1970s, and everybody’s thirty,” Gerwig told Letterboxd. And Barbie is a movie about plastic dolls, and everybody is thirty. I love it. Ken is a plastic doll played by 42-year-old Ryan Gosling. Rizzo is a high schooler who was played by a 33-year-old Stockard Channing. It happens.
Grease is unarguably one of the best cult classic movies out there. Australian good girl Sandy Olsson (Olivia Newton-John) and greaser bad boy Danny Zuko (John Travolta) have a summer lovin’ romance, and what they don’t know is that they both now attend Rydell High after Sandy’s family has a change of plans. When Sandy befriends the Pink Ladies, a group of pink jacket-wearing girls led by Rizzo, she gets thrown into the world of 1950s American high school. Rizzo takes Sandy to see Danny at the pep rally, and he is not the same Danny Zuko she met at the beach.
Definitely catch this movie before Barbie. It’s a film you can watch over and over again. The strongest thing about the movie is not the men’s hair gel (although that’s close) but the string of singable fifties gems that advance the story. Another strong thing about Grease is the culture it carries, from the cars to the catchphrases. I know Barbie is going to have some sickening cars. Now picture the iconic underpass race scene in Grease and replace greased lighting with a pink convertible. I’m hoping for a race or a chase with some high stakes.
I’ll definitely be wearing my Pink Ladies jacket to the theater to watch Barbie. Could Barbie be a Pink Lady? I think she looks too pure to be Pink. Who knows?
Playtime is a game of its own that’s packed with gags. It satirizes modern life in a gadget-filled Paris. The movie centers around Monsieur Hulot (Jacques Tati) and his parallel storyline character, the American tourist (Barbra Dennek) as they go through different environments developing an interest in one another. They get together in a restaurant, where we meet several other unique characters. Greta Gerwig said in her Letterboxd interview that “the way those movies [Tati films] unfold are just so perfect.” She said she always thought of Mattel as existing slightly in Jacques Tati’s world. The aesthetics are all organized, but what’s going on is complete chaos. There’s the monotone that starts to spiral after crazy series of events. There are also people poking fun at the rich, at tourists and at each other.
Shot on 70mm, it’s a joyful, creative, and hilarious film. It’s even recommended in art classes.
The aesthetic of this movie is grey. Grey and a lot more grey. But the little things, like a door shattering but the doorman still opening and closing in the frame, are what makes this a great watch before Barbie. The homes all look the same in Playtime, which makes me think of the sound stage vibe Gerwig wanted for Barbie. Maybe not every Barbie house is the same, but they’re definitely all in the neighborhood. The sets are so elaborate and put together so well that it makes chaos look organized. I can only assume that some Barbieland chaos will ensue, and I think some satirical elements of everyday life with Barbie can slip into the film. Barbie could easily be in the universe of French filmmaker Jacques Tati.
But I’m a Cheerleader (1999)
This 1999 hilarious satirical comedy has been deemed a cult classic featuring Natasha Lyonne, Clea DuVall, Melanie Lynskey and RuPaul. This movie was ahead of its time. It’s a queer story based on director Jamie Babbit’s own experiences and ones she had read about. There’s also something that sits perfectly with me about a lesbian creating and directing a lesbian story.
The story centers around an all-American cheerleader named Megan (Natasha Lyonne), whose parents and friends sit her down in an intervention to confront her about their findings about how she could be a lesbian. They bring in head camp counselor Mike (RuPaul) and send her to a conversion camp to cure her of her alleged homosexuality.
The colors in this movie are so bold. They combine together so well, from different purples to different pinks. In Grease, you had the contrasting Pink Ladies’ pink jackets to the shiny, black leather jackets of the T-Birds. Here, the colors are blue and pink, stereotypical boy versus girl colors. It gives that authentically artificial look that I think Gerwig really look for going into Barbie. The colors are solid, bold and brave just like Barbie, just like the themes behind But I’m a Cheerleader.
The movie is also the most bitingly satirical piece of media I’ve ever watched. Maybe Gosling took classes in dry humor for Barbie press by watching this movie over and over. The main counselor for the conversion camp is RuPaul wearing the shortest blue shorts, the highest perfectly white socks, and the tightest little t-shirt that says “Straight is great,” need I say more? I will. The head lady at the camp, dressed in all preppy pink, has a son who’s a groundskeeper onsite at the camp and is visibly gay. The dry humor is just right. The script brings light to these things that actually happen, how these kids really feel, how they’re treated by parents, but it also is overdramatic and extremely campy.