WARNING: Mild Barbie spoilers below.
Barbie director Greta Gerwig has revealed that she had to fight to keep one short, simple scene in the smash hit film – because, while it doesn’t advance the story, to her it was the “heart” of the movie.
The scene comes early in the film, when Barbie (Margot Robbie) and Ken (Ryan Gosling) have first left Barbieland for the real world, in search of a solution to Barbie’s current existential crisis.
Much of their arrival in the real world is played for fish-out-of-water laughs, as the innocent pair repeatedly get arrested while trying to blend in with society.
Except, that is, for one short scene, in which Barbie sits at a bus stop, waiting for Ken to return. Turning to her right, she sees an elderly woman, also waiting at the bus stop.
Sitting in silence, the pair share a meaningful look and Barbie – only ever used to seeing the plastic perfection of Barbieland, where nobody ever gets old – seems overwhelmed with emotion at the sight of the older woman. Breaking the silence, she tells the stranger that she’s beautiful.
The woman’s response, before Ken returns and the scene quickly moves on? “I know.”
“I love that scene so much,” Gerwig told Rolling Stone, revealing that the older woman is played by “legendary” 91-year-old costume designer Ann Roth. “It’s a cul-de-sac of a moment, in a way — it doesn’t lead anywhere. And in early cuts, looking at the movie, it was suggested, ‘Well, you could cut it. And actually, the story would move on just the same.’ And I said, ‘If I cut the scene, I don’t know what this movie is about.’”
“That’s how I saw it. To me, this is the heart of the movie,” she continued. “The way Margot plays that moment is so gentle and so unforced. There’s the more outrageous elements in the movie that people say, ‘Oh, my God, I can’t believe Mattel let you do this,’ or, ‘I can’t believe Warner Bros. let you do this.’ But to me, the part that I can’t believe that is still in the movie is this little cul-de-sac that doesn’t lead anywhere — except for, it’s the heart of the movie.”
Gerwig ran into other troubles when it came to making a movie for a corporate toymaking giant like Mattel. In another early scene when Barbie arrives in the real world, she approaches a teenage girl who used to play with her – only for the girl to give her a brutal dressing-down, essentially blaming Barbie for many of the world’s ills.
Time reported that Mattel president Richard Dickson flew to the London set of Barbie during filming to argue that the scene should be cut from the film – and was only won over when Gerwig and Robbie performed it live on set for him.
“When you look on the page, the nuance isn’t there, the delivery isn’t there,” Robbie told the outlet.
It seems Mattel’s gamble on Gerwig is paying off, with Barbie already shaping up as a massive box office success after just one weekend in cinemas. With a mammoth $US155 million opening at the American box office, the film has become the biggest ever debut for a movie by a female director.