Saturday, September 26, 2009

Barbie, the Movie

Negotiations are underway in Hollywood for a major motion picture of the Yellow Pages, with principal photography set to begin sometime next year. Until then, moviegoers will have to be content with the latest transmogrification of an object to the screen:

Universal Pictures and Mattel have announced their forthcoming joint venture, a live-action movie based on Barbie, the billion-selling Mattel toy doll introduced in March 1959. Laurence Mark, producer of “Jerry Maguire,” is taking the lead on production.

The possibilities are endless, and already proven. Hasbro, the toy manufacturer, teamed up with Paramount Pictures for this summer’s “G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra,” a $170 million film that, uh, transforms the 11-inch action figure first sold in 1964 into a high-tech, sci-fi, one-man arsenal suitable for movie audiences in the 21st century. The film’s grossed over $294 million so far.

The life of Barbara Millicent Roberts would seem to be just as perfect for the movies, a tabula rasa rife for development. Since the doll first hit the market 50 years ago, Barbie has been an avatar of modern women and their personal and professional aspirations since the beginning; the doll’s been dressed as everything from an astronaut to a stewardess, from a Starfleet captain to President of the United States.

So the casting directors should be able to cast a wide net. Universal and Mattel could go conventional: Reese Witherspoon could pull it off, given her predilections for investing mannequin roles with an over-the-top exuberance (see “Legally Blonde”). Drew Barrymore (lately doing service as a Cover Girl spokeswoman) would be a credible Barbie, gamely conveying her glam aspect. Want a little more edge? Juliette Lewis would bring in the tattoo-and-nose-rings demographic in droves.

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The diversity of American women and their experiences in the modern world would seem to demand the filmmakers explore a wide range of possibles. Barbie represents a universal aspiration; how better to illustrate that than by stepping outside the usual casting boxes? Halle Berry or Taraji P. Henson would be fine candidates for the Everydoll come to life; Jennifer Lopez or Queen Latifah would be great concessions to the idea of a more adult-figured Barbie, trading the doll’s stick-figure figure for a more realistic depiction of the female form.

Since the filmmakers are dealing with a cultural property that’s half a century old, they might also consider a Barbie that speaks to that moneyed demographic. After her terrific performance as Julia Child in “Julie & Julia,” it’s clearer than ever that there’s no role Meryl Streep can’t perform to great effect.

And what about Ken? Casting for Barbie’s companion and paramour presents the opportunity to put guys’ asses in theater seats to watch what will be, invariably, a chick flick of the first order. Gerard Butler comes to mind. Or maybe Jude Law or Ryan Reynolds. And if Barbie the Movie’s meant to reflect an up-to-the-moment sense of the diversity of our culture, why not step outside that usual-suspects box? Has Will Smith been approached?

Whatever the casting decisions, this will be one to watch for. Barbie the doll has long been representative of our society’s best, most inclusive sense of itself. Barbie the Motion Picture faces a challenge in doing the same thing. Show us the movie.
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Image credits: Barbie top: From Barbie.everythinggirl.com. Barbie full length: From the Barbie Collector Web site.

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