Why critics are loving Barbie’s Ken

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Greta Gerwig’s Barbie movie is receiving rave reviews – not least for Gosling’s hilarious performance as famous male sidekick Ken. Could he go all the way to the awards podium, asks Laura Martin.

Gosling’s other skill is that even in Ken’s most deluded acts, it’s difficult to truly hate him. He’s ultimately a misguided, slightly pathetic and pitiable character, as he peacocks around, trying to work out who he is after years in Barbie’s shadow, before acknowledging his vulnerability. Gerwig told the LA Times that she was taken by Gosling’s open-heartedness in portraying Ken’s journey: “He was freeing masculinity for everyone on set in this extraordinary way. And these men [on set] loved it. I think they felt released.”

What makes Gosling’s performance feel so revelatory is that he’s an actor so associated with films of a dark or bleaker nature; brooding, troubled characters like in Drive and A Place Beyond the Pines, or men struggling with addiction on the edge of society as in Blue Valentine and Half Nelson. He can do light entertainment, as he so skilfully showed in rom-coms Crazy Stupid Love and the all-singing, all dancing La La Land, as well as underrated comedy-thriller The Nice Guys. But he’s never been quite this much fun.

Is comedy given its awards due?

Given that his turn as Ken in Barbie is as close to perfect as you’d want an out-and-out comedy performance to be, some people are already suggesting that this role could take him to Academy Award glory. Jamie Jirak from ComicBook.com was first out of the gate, suggesting on Twitter last week after an early screening: “Give Ryan Gosling an Oscar nomination, I’m dead serious!”, a sentiment echoed this week by Lucy Ford in British GQ, who affirmed “He should honestly be nominated for an Oscar”.

Is it fanciful thinking to think he could even go ahead and win? History shows that actors in comedies rarely succeed at the Oscars when pitted against those in emotionally wrought dramas and biopics, the likes of Marisa Tomei in My Cousin Vinny and Jack Nicholson in As Good As It Gets being exceptions. And of the actors who have won for comic roles, few have given performances quite as absurd, exaggerated and plain silly as Gosling. Then again, given the way Barbenheimer – the box-office battle between Barbie and Christopher Nolan’s nuclear bomb epic Oppenheimer – both released tomorrow – has gripped the world, it might be that Academy Awards voters are keen to see this duel play out once again at the podium, with a host of nominations for both. 

But while film critic Ellen E Jones thought Gosling “smashed it” as Ken, she doesn’t think this will hold much sway with the Academy. “I don’t fancy Ryan’s chances much at the Oscars,” she tells BBC Culture. “Firstly because, even though we’re in this era of Awards show reform, supposedly in line with social changes in the world more generally, I believe the tedious self-seriousness which surrounds these ceremonies will be the last thing to go… and for that reason a brilliantly hilarious performance like Gosling’s will not be rewarded.” She also makes the point that “the optics of giving a man an award for what is so pointedly a feminist film are a bit off”.

Certainly though, with Ken, Gosling has cemented himself as one of Hollywood’s most versatile actors. Oscar or no Oscar, he can be assured that, to paraphrase the slogan on his pastel-coloured fleece top in Barbie; he’s more than Ken-ough.

Barbie is released in cinemas internationally on 21 July

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