Barbie is in on the joke in more ways than one.
Greta Gerwigthe film, which stars Margot Robbie under the name “Stereotypical Barbie”, is the first film to debut from the revived Mattel Films and despite its ties to the company, Barbie isn’t afraid to poke fun at the controversy surrounding the famous doll.
Along with addressing gender stereotypes and comments about the unrealistic figure of Barbie (and her dream world), the film doesn’t shy away from creator Ruth Handler’s personal struggles.
Ruth invented Barbie in 1959 during her reign as president of Mattel from 1945 to 1975. She named the toy after her daughter, Barbara Handler. (Ruth shared Barbara and her son Kenneth – the name behind the Ken doll – with husband Elliot Handler, who died in 2011.)
“A Barbie movie will never be just a mother-daughter movie on so many levels because it was Ruth Handler and Barbara — it was the relationship,” director Gerwig said. Time before the Friday, July 21 release.
While Ruth died in 2002, some fans were convinced Barbara was making an appearance as an older woman who shares a sweet moment with Robbie’s Barbie on a bench in the “real world.” Gerwig, however, put the speculation to rest in an interview with The New York Timesrevealing that the role is played by Oscar-winning costume designer Ann Roth.
“I love this scene so much,” said Gerwig People. “The way Margot plays this moment is so soft and so free.”
Ahead of the film’s release, Barbara gave Robbie’s casting her approval, telling TMZ that the trailer looked “super cute and she especially loves Margot’s voice.”
While Barbara told the outlet she thought her mother would appreciate the idea of the doll coming to the big screen, Ruth’s personal issues are mocked in the film by the portrayer. Rhea Perlman, who makes jokes about the IRS and tax evasion. According to Los Angeles Times, Ruth was charged with making false reports to the Securities and Exchange Commission and fraud in 1978. She was fined $57,000 and served 2,500 hours of community service after pleading no contest. The film alludes to Ruth being kicked out of Mattel amid financial troubles that first raised eyebrows in 1975.
Producer Robbie Brenner said Variety earlier this month, Mattel was still down with Gerwig’s version of the script, which she co-wrote with her partner Noah Baumbach.
“When everyone first read the script here, I’m sure there were things like, ‘Wow, that’s pushing things a bit,'” Brenner said. “But we all decided that there would be times when it might feel a little scary, but we’re going to be rewarded for it. Being safe in this world doesn’t work. We want it to be bold. Barbie is bold. She’s done amazing things. She’s a trailblazer. And that’s what we did.
Perlman’s Ruth also jokes about having a double mastectomy in the film. (Ruth was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1970.) America FerreraGloria’s relationship with her daughter Sasha (Ariana Greenblatt) is a major plot point, the emotional ending between Barbie and Ruth also reflects a mother-daughter relationship.
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Barbie is in theaters now.