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I survived Barbenheimer weekend. It was a blast.

 Screengrabs from the movies "Barbie" and "Oppenheimer" with a pink background

This past weekend marked a momentous celebration for cinema: Barbenheimer. Starting July 21 in Milwaukee, these two highly anticipated films — Greta Gerwig's Barbie and Christopher Nolan's Oppenheimer — simultaneously graced the silver screen, creating a cinematic extravaganza that turned out to be a resounding success.

The duo raked in an astounding $235 million during their shared opening, almost single (or double?) handedly driving the box office to its second-highest gross ever.

The internet, true to form, couldn't resist the perfect contrast between these two films and flooded social media with memes:

Fans took their enthusiasm to the limits by creating custom Etsy shirts:

And even the cast members got in on the fun by playfully promoting each other's movies.

In light of this cinematic showdown, moviegoers organized double screenings of the films. However, a heated debate arose over which movie should be experienced first. Let me say that if you watched or plan to watch Barbie before Oppenheimer, I must respectfully disagree. My spoiler-free experience follows so you can see why exactly this is the “correct” way to Barbenheimer.

I started with some pre-movie buzz by attending Liliput Records’ Barbie album listening party the week prior. On the actual day, the excitement began with Oppenheimer at 4 p.m., followed by a mere hour’s intermission before Barbie started rolling at 8:15 pm. That very brief break happened because my Barbenheimer day didn't start off as smoothly as I had hoped.

As Oppenheimer lit up the screen in front of me, there was an unfortunate mishap with the tape, leading to an audio narration glitch that persisted for the first 20 minutes of the film. I actually captured the moment in this snippet of audio so you can hear for yourself:

Oppenheimer Narration

Thankfully, Marcus Cinema promptly resolved the issue, offering every moviegoer two complimentary tickets (with no expiration date) as compensation. With the technical glitch finally fixed, it was time to delve into the films themselves.

Oppenheimer: overshadowed off-screen

Here's the thing: I genuinely admire Christopher Nolan as a fantastic director, and this film undoubtedly proves his ability to tackle significant challenges. Objectively, Oppenheimer is a great film. The cinematography is a visual treat, the score by Ludwig Göransson is nothing short of phenomenal, and Cillian Murphy's performance as the lead truly establishes him as a leading man.

However, while watching it, I found myself incredibly uncomfortable. Considering the film's subject matter revolving around the man behind the atomic bomb, it's only natural to expect such queasy feelings.

The film primarily revolves around Oppenheimer's perspective, but it noticeably omits several crucial aspects, including the aftermath of the Trinity test and the harm inflicted on the residents of New Mexico, particularly many Hispanic and Native American communities.

To me, the most troubling aspect is the underlying message that if these events were not portrayed on screen, they were seemingly not even a consideration in Robert Oppenheimer's mind.

Another uncomfortable moment arose when Casey Affleck appeared on the screen. I distinctly recall taking a deep breath to compose myself. The reason behind my discomfort is rooted in the fact that Affleck faced sexual-harassment allegations from two crew members on his film, I'm Still Here. It’s disheartening to witness that despite such serious allegations, Hollywood often allows "canceled" actors to make a significant comeback.

Clearly, my final verdict of the film is complicated by matters on screen and off. I didn't hate it; it possesses all the essential elements of a good movie. However, the experience left me grappling with deeper questions about what we choose to portray on the big screen.

The central concern that lingers in my mind is whether we have truly moved beyond these traditional and biased narratives. Is there a genuine need for a three-hour-long movie that appears to glorify a character who is often considered a villain in history? Would we react the same way if a film delved into the humanity of figures like Osama Bin Laden? Or is it somehow more acceptable when the main character is white, irrespective of whether they are portrayed as a hero or a villain?

Barbie: deep thoughts in a pink package

Those questions still lingered as I walked into Barbie feeling like a bit of a downer amidst the sea of pink-clad moviegoers. The atmosphere was filled with a giddy energy I couldn't quite match. But, as soon as the lights dimmed, I was totally invested in director Greta Gerwig’s Dreamland.

The movie proved to contain everything I anticipated from Gerwig as she crafted a powerful coming-of-age tale. While I have great respect for both Margot Robbie and Ryan Gosling as actors, Barbie surpassed my expectations thanks in large part to Gerwig — even though I felt incredibly called out by “Depression Barbie.” Greta, I forgive you, but you didn’t have to come after me like that.

Visually stunning, the film showcased a complexity that was both intriguing and thought-provoking. It was infectiously nebulous. Throughout the movie, Gerwig fearlessly exposed her own emotions and experiences as a woman and a human being, adding an authentic and relatable dimension to the storytelling. Without giving away any spoilers, the absolute high points for me were America Ferrera's monologue and the “I’m Just Ken” musical performance from Ryan Gosling.

Barbie turned out to be more than just an entertaining movie; it’s a beautiful yet hilarious portrayal of the difficulties of womanhood and the unrealistic standards society holds us to — standards that leave us feeling constantly oppressed, terrified, scrutinized, objectified, simplified, disregarded and never good enough for anyone, including yourself.

I’m not saying it’s a perfect movie, but it will go down as an instant classic. For me, a big reason why is that I walked out of Barbie saying I love being a woman and that I am (K)enough.

Audio Storyteller / 88Nine On-Air Talent | Radio Milwaukee