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"There's no character and there's no story" - Why Barbie movie co-writer wanted out until he didn't

Noah Baumbach thought life in plastic wasn't fantastic when he joined the project.

Barbie and her allies
Image credit: Warner Bros. Pictures

Barbie is the biggest pop culture phenomenon of 2023. There's no denying it. The Greta Gerwig-helmed live-action movie had almost nothing to work with after previous attempts at adapting the famous Mattel doll went nowhere, but she was given enough creative control and freedom to build the movie of her dreams, a movie that ultimately resonated with countless audience members worldwide, including Martin Scorsese, this summer.

Was everything as wonderful at first as the movie's most joyful scenes? Of course not. After a special screening at the Writers Guild of America West headquarters this past weekend, co-writer Noah Baumbach (who happens to be Gerwig's husband) revealed plenty of details about their creative process and the huge doubts he had going in. Variety recapped all the best bits here, but we especially enjoyed his initial reaction to the gig: "I thought it was a terrible idea and Greta signed me up for it... I kind of blocked it for a while and every time she’d bring it up, I’d be like, ‘You’ve gotta get us out of this.’ And then the pandemic happened..." He makes it sound like he was tricked into co-writing the script, which wouldn't surprise us at all.

Anyone familiar with Noah Baumbach's movies knows he's far from a cheerful guy, but it seems that kicking ideas around with Gerwig allowed him to figure out what the movie was and why his partner had accepted the job. "There’s no character and there’s no story," he said at first, before his attitude changed during the pandemic, when Gerwig presented a couple of pages he found fascinating: "The movie is about embracing your mortality and about the mess of it all, so it was exciting." Again, we aren't surprised by his words, but it's nice to hear him say them.

At the time of writing, Barbie has amassed almost $1.5 billion worldwide at the box office, and it should be one of the best-selling domestic releases ahead of the Christmas season. We'll never know if its performance would've been as great without the unexpected "Barbenheimer" craze that was created by the Internet around it and Christopher Nolan's Oppenheimer, but this is where we currently are. The glowing reviews must have helped too.

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