Friday Film Roundup: Barbie vs. Oppenheimer

ENTERTAINMENTBy 2023-07-21T18:01:36-04:00July 21st, 2023|
  • "BARBENHEIMER" (Credit: Warner Bros., Universal, and IGN)

Throughout the summer movie season, studios tend to stay out of each other’s way as much as possible. If three huge movies come out in the same weekend, they’re more likely to disappoint at the box office. If just one of them is released per week, the chances of them all succeeding is much higher. However, every so often there’s a weekend where two of the year’s most anticipated movies come out on the same day. This weekend is the moment we’ve all been waiting for — the “Barbie” and “Oppenheimer” showdown.

The two movies couldn’t be more different. One is about a popular children’s toy experiencing real life for the first time while the other is a serious and grounded biopic about one of the most controversial men in history. However, theaters are reporting a surge in double features. If you love movies, it might be hard to tell which one you’re more excited for. Thankfully, none of us has to choose between seeing one or the other.

“Barbie” (In Theaters July 21st)

Let’s start with “Barbie,” the long-awaited, live action adaptation of decades worth of Barbie lore. There are literally hundreds of Barbie and Ken variations out there, and it seems like director Greta Gerwig is out to showcase as many of them as possible. The story, however, focuses on a Barbie played by Margot Robbie, who travels to the real world when she can’t shake the feeling that there must be more out there.

It’s difficult to know exactly what a live action, PG-13 “Barbie” movie might look like, but it seems like Gerwig wants to use the iconic character to tell a story about contemporary womanhood. Most importantly, how a woman’s appearance can’t be defined by one style or one standard. Barbie dolls were long considered a standard of what a woman was supposed to look like, but as studies have already shown us, it is literally impossible for a human being to look like that.

Building on the premise that perfection is neither attainable nor desirable, Gerwig’s “Barbie” looks like it’s going to be a celebration of women everywhere, regardless of their appearance or the way they make their way through the world.

“Oppenheimer” (In Theaters July 21st)

On the other end of the spectrum is Christopher Nolan’s 3-hour epic about J. Robert Oppenheimer, the theoretical physicist who spearheaded a project that would ultimately produce the atomic bombs used to destroy Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan during World War II. As a result of that, Oppenheimer occupies a very particular space in American history. On the one hand you have those who celebrate him as a hero who successfully prevented more unnecessary deaths at the end of the war. Others see him as little more than a glorified war criminal whose creations actually resulted in unnecessary deaths and ushered in one of the most contentious conflicts of the 20th century, the Cold War.

Nolan has expressed his concern about the possibility of nuclear fallout but also called Oppenheimer the most important person who has ever lived, despite his inability to understand the implications of his work. It’s pretty clear that Nolan is more fascinated by Oppenheimer than he is impressed with him, but his epic biopic will most likely paint a complex, layered portrait of a man whose story has been somewhat buried underneath his legacy.

Starring just about every Hollywood actor who has ever appeared in a movie, Oppenheimer is an epic in every sense of the word. It’s arguably Nolan’s most ambitious project to date. Additionally, it was shot on 70mm IMAX film. Movie nerds already know how big of a deal this is, but even those who only see movies casually will notice the difference if they’re able to attend a screening in that particular format.

“Stephen Curry: Underrated” (On Apple TV+ July 21st)

If you want to avoid the huge crowds this weekend and catch a “Barbenheimer” matinee next week, you should probably use that free Apple TV+ trial if you aren’t already subscribed. The first of two major releases on the platform concerns acclaimed NBA player Steph Curry. Since 2009, Curry has played for the Golden State Warriors, leading the team to four NBA Playoff wins while being the only player to receive a unanimous vote for the league’s MVP in 2016 after already winning the year prior.

Despite his success, a new documentary claims that the player is still, as the subtitle says, underrated. Following him from his college ball days in 2008 to his present career as an NBA superstar, “Stephen Curry: Underrated,” the doc reminds viewers that Curry was not always the massive star he is today. In fact, despite being a first-round pick in the NBA draft, Curry was considered a dark horse in the league.

A lanky player who stands just 6-foot-2 (which really isn’t that tall when you’re playing basketball), Curry has transformed himself from underdog to champion, enduring injuries, doubters, and his own limitations as a player, of which there are very few today. However, “Underrated” seems accessible to fans and newcomers alike. At the end of the day, Curry’s story is inspiring, regardless of how familiar you are with his career.

“The Beanie Bubble” (On Apple TV+ July 21st)

The second major release on Apple TV+ this week is a biopic about the rise of Beanie Babies, the popular collector’s item with variations that continue to sell for thousands of dollars today. At the time, of course, nobody knew these plush toys would become a currency of their own, and the film attempts to add some context for those who know the toy but not the story behind it. The film stars Zach Galifianakis as Ty Warner, a toy salesman who teams up with three women and accidentally creates the most popular teddy bear in existence.

“Return to Dust” (In Theaters July 21st)

Finally, we have a quiet romantic drama following two older Chinese singles who develop an unexpected bond after they are forced into an arranged marriage. With families who no longer have the capacity to deal with them, the two newlyweds learn to rely on each other for comfort and happiness as they tend a small farm in a Chinese province called Gansu. The film was released last year in China before it was banned just weeks later after becoming an unexpected hit. Now, it’s making its US debut, allowing viewers to see what the Chinese government considers a statement of dissent from the cast and crew that made it.

Josef Rodriguez is a writer, filmmaker, and film critic living in New York City.