So, I took in two movies lately – out to the movies toe see “Wonka”, and “Barbie” came out to where I could stream it so I finally got around to watching it – and I have THOUGHTS.
Let’s start with “Barbie”, as having had chronological primogenityre, as it were. Back when “Barbenheimer” was a thing I shelled out to go see “Oppenheimer” in the movie theatre, and have zero regrets I did so; I balked at going to see “Barbie” in the cinema. I simply could not see a way that a movie like that would hold any interest for me. I mean, so I played with dolls (including Barbie-like incarnations) when I was a little girl, sure, but a movie…? What would it hold that would hold me? I mean, I have never been afraid of spoilers (and be warned there are going to be some of those sprinkled through this write up), and I kind of had an inkling about things – but America Ferrera’s famous “What does it mean to be a woman in today’s world speech” was, while heroic, not enough for me to cough up actual dough to hear it from the big screen.
How do you nutshell “Barbie”? It’s a Matterl-merchandised modern Pinocchio story, in a way, where a doll eventually gets to be a Real Girl (TM) – and I can honestly say that the movie left me with a CRASHING disappointment when Real Barbie is dropped off at an appointment at the conclusion of the movie, full of “attagirl you can do it” exhortions, and at the very least given the feminist message of the movie – I fully expected her to take up an executive position on the Mattel board, thus proving all the movies you-go-girl platitudes – instead, she walks in through a pair of shining doors and announces with an unholy glow on her face “I’m here to see my GYNAECOLOGIST!” – I mean, is Barbie’s crowning achievement at the conclusion of the movie bearing her name that she gets a real hoohah which gets poked about in by a OB-GYN? Really? Women can do anything, be anything – that’s the whole Barbie MESSAGE – and the ultimate achievement is to have a functional vagina? Hardly merits all the drama of the Barbie wars that led up to that moment.
And let’s talk about Ken for a moment. That was a huge hit and a miss for me. So Ken goes off on a hypermasculine toxic masculinity kick and all the Barbies are suddenly “brainwashed” into sashaying about in micro-mini-skirted cocktail waitress outfits bleating something about cold beers for their new lords and masters of Kendom – what is the message here? That poor put upon Kens had been in those positions beforehand? That they were simply jealous of Barbie’s ascendancy in Barbieland, but honestly, they were just stupid and dumb enough to simply put up with being inferior subcitizens until our partiuclar Ken got let loose in the real world and got “woke” to horses and engines and ends up back in Barbieland taking the votes back from the wimmin while swanning about dressed like a pimp in faux-fur coats and lots of bling? And the “plan” to get the Kens to start :mansplaining things to the already enlightened Barbies so that the brainwashed ones can be “Snatched” for an “intervention” to bring them back to their (dominant) senses? Does anyone else get vaguely freaked out that the only thing that it takes to “Restore” Barbieland is to prevent the Kens from voting, and from the Barbies to vote Barbieland constitution back into prominence? I kind of started to feel sorry for the Kens, actually. And I DON’T think that was the idea. But this is precisely the kind of reverse-feminism argument – men don’t fear equality so much as being treated by women in the same way as they treat women now because they know it is wrong. And the Kens in the original situation here were definitely being held in the same inferior-citizen position that women are being held in within our own world right now – it isn’t surprising that they went feral, in the end, but is the fear that the women (if they aren’t properly controlled) are about to go wild themselves and the men are so afraid of this that the only way to stop it is to keep their boot on the woman’s neck and not allow her to get up onto her own two feet (because if she does the inevitable result in the man’s eyes is that she is going to TURN on him…?)
They go from the fake plastic of Barbieland to the fake plastic of Hollywood (paraphrasing the final voiceover) and honestly what’s the difference? What was the message of the film supposed to be? And if it wasn’t supposed to have a message then why was America Ferrera’s speech in there? And what was all the fuss about? Honestly, I am so glad I did not pay good money to see this in the movie houses. It is literally everything that I hoped that it would not be and knew that it was. In the end it was inept and insipid and yes, fake and plastic. Final opinion is that those are two hours that I am going to wish I had back some day.
And with that, onto “Wonka”
I did go to see that in the cinema, because they GOT me with the trailer – honestly, I went because of Hugh Grant’s fruity Oompa Loompa threatening to poke Wonka with a “cocktail stick”. But really, for all the visual flash, this movie is a hot mess – it’s Little Orphan Annie (substitute “it’s a hard knock life” for “scrub scrub”) meets Hotel California (you can check in but you can never leave) with a side helping of Villainy in Different Flavours, from Dickensian Witch, the Dumb Evil Sidekick, the Greedy Rich Guys Out For Themselves, and Corrupt Officialdom. In between we have Wonka with OODLES of magic but apparently not enough of it to sell his chocolate or to prevent it from being boobytrapped to get him in trouble, an illiterate Wonka while we’re at it (what, he had ALL those recipes off by heart?) who is being taught to read by the endearing little urchin of the piece who entered the picture by being dropped through the laundry chute into the evil Mrs Scrubbit’s paws – the question that BEGS to be asked is who taught the URCHIN to read, and when, and precisely why. And there are constant gag lines (“death by CHOCOLATE!”) which are supposed to be nudge nudge wink wink funny but which kind of end up meriting no more than a large eye roll…
Look, not everything and everyone needs a backstory. Willie Wonka from the original Dahl story – the owner of the weird and magical Chcocolate Factory – just WAS. He didn’t need to be remade into some kind of an incomplete Wizard of Oz, as it were. We didn’t (Hugh Grant notwithstanding) NEED this back story – and if we were to get it anyway it needed to be a little less syrupy and saccharine and have a little more darkchocolate bitter bite to it. You can only consume SO much of the sickly sweet stuff before you start feeling rather ill from it and this is wayyy too syrupy. You end up choking on it.
I do wish I didn’t have to wonder whether this was something that Muad’dib would do for light relief in between leading his holy wars and whether the secret ingredient in Wonka’s chocolates was in fact Spice (which must flow…) but that’s what you get when you cast someone like Timothee Chalamet in that iconic Dune role and then have him appear in a movie like “Wonka” IN BETWEEN the two dramatic Dune installments. I mean it wasn’t supposed to happen because Dune part II was supposed to have been out already but then we had the hollywood strikes and there you have it – and now you have an Atreides-Wonka-Atreides sandwich which rather tastes like a chocolate-and-pickle confection that makes your head spin just a little too much.
That’s two strikes. I better be careful which movie I see next…