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Unstoppable Kenergy: how did Ryan Gosling steal the Barbie movie? | Barbie

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Now that the whole world has apparently gone to see Barbie, it seems like the secret is finally out. Margot Robbie is not the star of Barbie. Yes, she plays the lead. Yes, she produced it. Yes, she gets to spend a lot of time running around in nice dresses. But the star? Heavens, no. If you’ve seen Barbie, then you’ll be fully aware that the star of the film is actually Ryan Gosling.

Gosling plays Ken, Barbie’s superfluous paramour. But while Barbie has been the central force of the film’s heavy-handed marketing campaign, it turns out that the film is secretly a Ken vehicle. Ken gets the juiciest character arc. He gets all the good jokes. He gets a musical number. He gets more than one musical number. He’s self-aware, self-referential and complicated. It might just qualify as the greatest role of Ryan Gosling’s life.

It is indeed an unexpectedly meaty role. Although Ken could have simply been a one-joke character, writers Greta Gerwig and Noah Baumbach have enriched him with a complex inner turmoil. The film’s Ken wants so badly to be acknowledged by Barbie that his neediness warps into an ugly caricature of masculinity that spreads to the other Kens, until they have infected Barbieland with the sort of cartoon patriarchy that sees them deliver heartfelt sermons about the work of Steven Malkmus.

His reckoning, too, is surprisingly profound. The climax of the film technically comes when Barbie decides that she wants to be a real girl, but all the emotional heft comes ten minutes earlier, as Ken grapples with the concept of internal validation, realising that he can never truly be happy until he learns who he is outside of his relationship with Barbie. Gosling plays a lot of this for comic effect, but there’s a palpable rawness to it as well. Reviewers have compared the scene to the heart-wrenching work he did in Blue Valentine for a reason.

Also, though, it’s plain for all to see that Gosling is just having a whale of a time. He turns in an old-fashioned movie star performance the likes of which we don’t tend to see much of these days. He’s Ken, and he’s committed to being Ken. But at the same time, he’s Ryan Gosling, winking and smirking at the audience like he can’t believe he’s getting away with it. It’s like watching Jack Nicholson right in the sweet spot era between being an intense young actor and coasting off his self-image. It’s like watching Bruce Willis, before he learned to use his smirk to insulate himself against bad material.

More than anything, this is a sign that Gosling should do more comedy. This isn’t his first comedy by any means, of course. He was great, if under-utilised, in Crazy Stupid Love. He located all the right comic beats in La La Land. His work on The Nice Guys remains criminally underrated. But something about Ken fits the man like a glove. If he can find more roles that play to his strengths so effectively, there’ll be no stopping him.

And you sense that Gosling knows this too, given the giddy abandon in which he flung himself into promoting Barbie before the Sag-aftra strike. Long before the movie came out, he seemed to latch onto the sheer memeability of Ken, talking grandly of all the various traits that make a Ken a Ken. He did a GQ essentials video that lapsed in and out of character so seamlessly it is now impossible to identify where Ryan ends and Ken begins. He reportedly got T-shirts for the cast reading “When you Ken like lightning, you crash like thunder”. He has mentioned that he has had trouble shaking his inner Ken post-shooting, hinting that it has lingered within him like Austin Butler’s Elvis accent. It is by some distance the most committed piece of movie promotion we have seen since everyone in the MCU pretended that they were all best friends. If this isn’t his way of tacitly telling Hollywood the lengths he’ll go to for another good comic role, I don’t know what is.

But maybe he won’t need to wait too long. The Barbie movie has been an overwhelming commercial success, and everyone knows that success begets sequels. But (spoiler alert) Barbie doesn’t leave a lot of room for more, given that it ends with Barbie being granted a spiritual death that allows her to ascend to the real world. So you know what that means? It means that we – and Ryan Gosling – should brace ourselves for the prospect of The Ken Movie in 2025.


Now that the whole world has apparently gone to see Barbie, it seems like the secret is finally out. Margot Robbie is not the star of Barbie. Yes, she plays the lead. Yes, she produced it. Yes, she gets to spend a lot of time running around in nice dresses. But the star? Heavens, no. If you’ve seen Barbie, then you’ll be fully aware that the star of the film is actually Ryan Gosling.

Gosling plays Ken, Barbie’s superfluous paramour. But while Barbie has been the central force of the film’s heavy-handed marketing campaign, it turns out that the film is secretly a Ken vehicle. Ken gets the juiciest character arc. He gets all the good jokes. He gets a musical number. He gets more than one musical number. He’s self-aware, self-referential and complicated. It might just qualify as the greatest role of Ryan Gosling’s life.

It is indeed an unexpectedly meaty role. Although Ken could have simply been a one-joke character, writers Greta Gerwig and Noah Baumbach have enriched him with a complex inner turmoil. The film’s Ken wants so badly to be acknowledged by Barbie that his neediness warps into an ugly caricature of masculinity that spreads to the other Kens, until they have infected Barbieland with the sort of cartoon patriarchy that sees them deliver heartfelt sermons about the work of Steven Malkmus.

His reckoning, too, is surprisingly profound. The climax of the film technically comes when Barbie decides that she wants to be a real girl, but all the emotional heft comes ten minutes earlier, as Ken grapples with the concept of internal validation, realising that he can never truly be happy until he learns who he is outside of his relationship with Barbie. Gosling plays a lot of this for comic effect, but there’s a palpable rawness to it as well. Reviewers have compared the scene to the heart-wrenching work he did in Blue Valentine for a reason.

Also, though, it’s plain for all to see that Gosling is just having a whale of a time. He turns in an old-fashioned movie star performance the likes of which we don’t tend to see much of these days. He’s Ken, and he’s committed to being Ken. But at the same time, he’s Ryan Gosling, winking and smirking at the audience like he can’t believe he’s getting away with it. It’s like watching Jack Nicholson right in the sweet spot era between being an intense young actor and coasting off his self-image. It’s like watching Bruce Willis, before he learned to use his smirk to insulate himself against bad material.

More than anything, this is a sign that Gosling should do more comedy. This isn’t his first comedy by any means, of course. He was great, if under-utilised, in Crazy Stupid Love. He located all the right comic beats in La La Land. His work on The Nice Guys remains criminally underrated. But something about Ken fits the man like a glove. If he can find more roles that play to his strengths so effectively, there’ll be no stopping him.

And you sense that Gosling knows this too, given the giddy abandon in which he flung himself into promoting Barbie before the Sag-aftra strike. Long before the movie came out, he seemed to latch onto the sheer memeability of Ken, talking grandly of all the various traits that make a Ken a Ken. He did a GQ essentials video that lapsed in and out of character so seamlessly it is now impossible to identify where Ryan ends and Ken begins. He reportedly got T-shirts for the cast reading “When you Ken like lightning, you crash like thunder”. He has mentioned that he has had trouble shaking his inner Ken post-shooting, hinting that it has lingered within him like Austin Butler’s Elvis accent. It is by some distance the most committed piece of movie promotion we have seen since everyone in the MCU pretended that they were all best friends. If this isn’t his way of tacitly telling Hollywood the lengths he’ll go to for another good comic role, I don’t know what is.

But maybe he won’t need to wait too long. The Barbie movie has been an overwhelming commercial success, and everyone knows that success begets sequels. But (spoiler alert) Barbie doesn’t leave a lot of room for more, given that it ends with Barbie being granted a spiritual death that allows her to ascend to the real world. So you know what that means? It means that we – and Ryan Gosling – should brace ourselves for the prospect of The Ken Movie in 2025.

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