34 Things We Learned from Greta Gerwig’s ‘Barbie’ Commentary

Barbie Movie
By Rob Hunter · Published on February 1st, 2024

Welcome to Commentary Commentary, where we sit and listen to filmmakers talk about their work, then share the most interesting parts. In this edition, Rob Hunter revisits Greta Gerwig’s billion dollar toy commercial with the commentary for Barbie.

When you think about movies based on kids’ toys, it’s most likely so-called boy toys that come to mind like G.I. Joe, Transformers, and such. The highest-grossing one, though, belongs to the girls. Greta Gerwig‘s Barbie is a big hit walking the line between an honestly critical comedy and a toy commercial, and there’s a little something in it for everyone.

While the physical Blu-ray release doesn’t include a commentary track — boooo — Gerwig recorded one for the iTunes release — boooo — that has now made its way to HBO Max — cool. So keep reading to see what I heard on the commentary for Barbie.

Barbie (2023)

Commentator: Greta Gerwig (director/co-writer)

1. “First of all, yes, we have our pink logo,” she says, adding that is was wonderful of Warner Bros. to let them modify the studio’s opening logo for the film.

2. They knew they wanted to open with an homage to Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), but only if they “could do it with the utmost integrity.” The Kubrick estate allowed them access to the original landscape plates. They also liked the idea that some audiences might momentarily think they had entered the wrong theater. Unrelated, the visions that Barbie has of the human girl she’s connected to were referred to as “The Shining” on set, continuing the Kubrick connection. She adds later that the big boardroom table in the Mattel building is a Dr. Strangelove reference “except we made it a heart.”

3. Gerwig is a big Helen Mirren fan and asked the acting legend to narrate the film. “I thought it gave a sense of gravitas to what will be very silly proceedings.”

4. The giant plastic legs are modeled on Margot Robbie‘s legs.

5. The sequence showing all the different human Barbie dolls was designed like a Busby Berkeley musical with each model on their own spinning Lazy Susan.

6. She shouts out the fantastic production design — legit some of the year’s best — by Sarah Greenwood. A lot of time was spent settling on colors, brightness levels, the blend of 2D/3D elements

7. The shot where Barbie (Robbie) looks into a mirror that isn’t actually there is lifted from Jerry Lewis’ The Ladies Man (1961).

8. Barbie waves to the pilot and then some astronauts, and when she says “Yay, space!” it’s Gerwig’s absolute favorite thing. “It just feels like it captures something wonderful and dorky and genuine about Barbie.”

9. “Allan (Michael Cera) is the most tragic figure in Barbieland,” and that’s something that Gerwig and Cera felt was exactly right for the character as not everyone gets their fantasy.

10. Barbie’s big dance party was designed and choreographed with only the base of the Dua Lipa song ready as the actual track wasn’t completed yet. Lipa actually sat in the booth and sang “to the picture.”

11. In Barbieland the boys dance for the girls, but some of the actors were worried about their dance skills. “No, you’re gonna be perfect,” replied Gerwig. “The imperfections of it is what makes it charming.” The background characters both here and in other group scenes are actually dancers. “They stand in a way that people like me don’t stand, it’s just a heightened quality.”

12. Gerwig and Kate McKinnon have been friends since they were eighteen years old and roommates in college. “When I met her I thought ‘she’s the most talented, funny person I’ve ever met,’ and I was right.” Weird Barbie (McKinnon) is prone to random splits, and they accomplished it with both a gymnast double and a fake leg that McKinnon could move into place.

13. She loves in movies when someone “explains” the plot or problem with some big, serious, fake-science speech, so she showed McKinnon a supercut of scenes from several films, “and I said ‘I want you to explain it all like this level of authority but it’s just gobbledygook.’”

14. Gerwig is a big fan of The Matrix (1999).

15. “There are so many things our art department did that I didn’t even realize until we were there.” Unrelated, Gerwig doesn’t mention the map in Weird Barbie’s house that caused the film to be banned in Vietnam due to its apparent eight-line representation of China’s “nine dash line” territorial claim.

16. She reveled in the film’s effects work as she and her team did as much as possible using “old school” practical effects and tricks, albeit with CG assists. From miniature sets to 2-D dioramas, it was both painstaking and rewarding. “I have a great love of painted backdrops.”

17. Robbie felt genuinely self-conscious and uncomfortable during the Venice Beach rollerblading sequence as real people were staring in disbelief. ‘They look bananagrams.”

18. Gerwig praises everyone in the film, but she has the most compliments for Ryan Gosling‘s performance. So yes, she probably understands why he got the film’s sole Oscar nomination for acting. “He’s a real comic genius.”

19. The older woman sitting on the bench beside Barbie is Ann Roth, legendary costume designer from stage and screen. “I thought that she had the most marvelous, beautiful face. Also, she doesn’t take crap from anyone.”

20. Mattel’s office space is based around the films of Jacques Tati. “He does these incredible corporate spaces in Playtime, and also, there’s a lot of influences from Mon Oncle.”

21. “I felt that it was really important that we criticize Barbie very articulately, from a character who has a very legitimate point of view.” That character here is Sasha, played by Ariana Greenblatt, who came in, auditioned, and immediately intimidated both Gerwig and Robbie. The scene

22. She wanted Ruth Handler’s (Rhea Perlman) room to feel like a David Lynch creation. The kitchen itself is based loosely on the one that Gerwig grew up with.

23. Gerwig never expected to shoot a car chase, let alone for a Barbie movie, but she praises 2nd unit director George Cottle for being fantastic at his job and for working through it so well with her and the cinematographer, Rodrigo Prieto. “As people who are great at making films, so much of it was just, like, playing with little cars on a table. It almost demystifies it.”

24. They actually made some Ken Mojo Dojo Casa houses as toys, and Gerwig tried to convince Mattel to put them into production for sale.

25. She showed Robbie and Gosling Howard Hawks’ Twentieth Century (1934) with Carole Lombard and John Barrymore as a reference “because I think they’re just so funny when they fight.”

26. Earlier cuts featured Gosling’s Ken singing “Boys Just Want to Have Fun” for three minutes straight while Kingsley Ben-Adir‘s Ken danced beside him, but “it stopped the movie completely.”

27. She’s never identified in the film, but the character at Weird Barbie’s house “who kind of looks like a 19th century somebody” is actually meant to be Proust Barbie.

28. Gloria’s (America Ferrera) big speech to Barbie about what it means to be a woman in this world left many of the women on set crying and some of the men emotional. “On one hand it’s totally ridiculous. She’s talking to brainwashed dolls in a dollhouse. And on the other hand it feels like she’s speaking directly to us.”

29. Say Anything (1989) is one of Gerwig’s favorite movies.

30. “I love adults sitting with their feet dangling,” she says, and adds that she thinks she’s included it in every movie she’s made.

31. Ken’s mink originally just fell to the ground after being thrown, but Gerwig’s stepson suggested that it should get a freeze-frame with name just like Barbie’s clothes did earlier.

32. Gerwig saw photos of a very pregnant Emerald Fennell on-set for Promising Young Woman (2020), and then saw her pregnant again while accepting her Oscar. “I was like, ‘You’re such a badass, and you’re so wonderful, and you’re never not pregnant. And I think you should be Midge.’” Midge, of course, is the mute, pregnant Barbie.

33. the home movie montage at the end is made up of clips from cast/crew members. “I wanted it to be a reminder this movie is made by people.” Billie Eilish wrote the song “What Was I Made For?” after seeing only thirty-five minutes of the film.

34. More movies she names as references include Jaws (1975), The Warriors (1979), Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977), Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986), A Matter of Life and Death (1946), Singin’ in the Rain (1952), Grease (1978), Heaven Can Wait (1978), and The Wizard of Oz (1939).

Best in Context-Free Barbie Commentary

“This little nugget’s face is the best.”

“All the little girls were very sad to smash the dolls, which, I understood that.”

“When I first wrote this I thought ‘Oh no, am I actually going to do a 2001 parody? But then I pitched it to my therapist who thought it was hilarious, so here we are.’”

“Issa Rae as president still makes me smile.”

“We decided nobody knows what ‘beach-off’ means.”

“America is really the heart and soul of the movie.”

“I’ve seen this movie hundreds of times, and I can’t watch it without laughing at Ryan.”

“In a way, I think the movie is always about kind of doing the thing and undercutting the thing at the same time.”

“Ryan playing guitar and singing is one of the top comic moments of all time.”

“This is so strange, but I love it so much that I’m just going to believe that other people will love it, too.”

Final Thoughts on the Barbie Commentary

Some folks feel as if Barbie, the cast, and the filmmakers were snubbed with the recent Academy Award nominations, but nearly one and half billion dollars at the box-office is its own form of satisfying. It’s a good movie with basic ideas presented in engaging, well crafted ways, and it’s also pretty darn funny on occasion. Gerwig’s commentary makes it very clear just how much thought and work went into the film’s writing, preparation, and execution, and you can’t help but love the response that the world has given the cast, the crew, and Gerwig herself.

Read more Commentary Commentary from the archives.

Related Topics: Barbie, Commentary Commentary, Greta Gerwig

Rob Hunter has been writing for Film School Rejects since before you were born, which is weird seeing as he’s so damn young. He’s our Chief Film Critic and Associate Editor and lists ‘Broadcast News’ as his favorite film of all time. Feel free to say hi if you see him on Twitter @FakeRobHunter.

#Learned #Greta #Gerwigs #Barbie #Commentary

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