In honor of “Barbenheimer,” the biggest film event of the year, I caught two back-to-back opening shows for Barbie and Oppenheimer last night (all decked out in Barbiecore pink, of course). Whether you’re a film buff or casual moviegoer, both films together form the ultimate summer double-feature that’ll make you glad you caught the magic happen in real-time.
Barbie is a visually dazzling fest of technicolor fuschias-and-blues that’s equal parts breezy and brainy. The film follows Barbie (Margot Robbie) who leaves the matriarchal Barbieland after she starts struggling to complete her regular routine and growing anxious about death. To fix this, she must travel to the real world to find the little girl who’s been playing with her.
Director Greta Gerwig (Lady Bird, Little Women) transitions between the surreal and cerebral, as well as the funny and feminist, in a way that feels near-seamless. The jokes land with surefire precision due to a tongue-in-cheek script that acutely understands contemporary girlhood (Depression Barbie wears sweatpants and re-watches BBC’s Pride and Prejudice on loop) and the power of a good one-liner. “That’s cellulite,” Weird Barbie (Kate McKinnon) explains to the horror-stricken Barbie in the most deadpan voice imaginable.
The lead performances are so winning. Robbie is impossible not to root for as Barbie and carries the movie’s more emotional moments with such wide-eyed earnestness, she might leave you a little breathless if not in outright tears. Gosling’s Ken is another standout whose very presence on-screen exudes physical comedy and makes for the perfect foil for Barbie. There’s so much heart here, it’s hard to not come away a little in love.
While Barbie leans towards lighthearted, Oppenheimer is all slow-building tension, and I’d recommend watching the latter film first to use Barbie as the perfect pick-me-up from all that existential dread (unlike me, who unfortunately did the opposite).
Directed by Christopher Nolan (Inception, The Prestige), Oppenheimer is a wide-sweeping epic based on the 2005 biography American Prometheus. It follows J. Robert Oppenheimer (Cillian Murphy), the theoretical physicist charged with developing nuclear weapons for the Manhattan Project during World War II. The film spans two general timelines, Oppenheimer’s life before and after the development of the atomic bomb in Los Alamos, and then the aftermath — specifically, when he’s on trial for his communist ties.
While the film is a bit drawn-out at three hours (especially if you’ve just been sitting in a theater for two hours before this like I was), Oppenheimer will still envelop you with its measured intensity. A lot of this is because Murphy nails every brushstroke of the complex man on which he’s based, evoking stoicism, brokenness, hubris, and hypocrisy all at once. The rapid-fire dialogue — which feels reminiscent of the deposition scenes of The Social Network — as well as the sweeping score and visuals are what make this nail-biter so compelling. When the first nuclear explosion results in a flash of white so blinding and silence so deafening, it’s hard to tell whether you should be horrified or just flat-out stunned. The scene is one of the film’s best — and Oppenheimer is one of the year’s best.