Hollywood has long practiced the art of conflicted moral messaging, or the pushing of lofty moral or ethical aspiration while simultaneously enticing the crowd with cheap highs and tawdry pleasures.
For decades this was Cecil B. DeMille‘s game, especially with films like Sign of the Cross and The Ten Commandments — give the peons sex, glamour and lavish spectacle while preaching somber adherence to the Old Testament gospel.
Martin Scorsese‘s The Wolf of Wall Street employed a similar strategy, revelling in Jordan Belfort‘s lifestyle of drugs, depravity and debauchery while condemning Wall Street’s culture of greed and exploitation.
I’ve never forgotten LexG saying at the time that he liked The Wolf of Wall Street “for the wrong reasons” — i.e., he’d had so much fun with the party-boy behavior that the moral message barely registered.
The latest trailer for Greta Gerwig‘s Barbie seems to be following suit. On one hand it’s clearly a satire of girly-girl shallowness and empty Coke-bottle personalities and pretty-in-pink aesthetics, but on the other hand many who will pay to see it (are we allowed to say that younger women are apparently the target audience?) will be adoring the abundant plastic materialism and smiley-face attitudes that the film is telling its audience to maybe think twice about.
Trust me, there will be millions who will love Barbie “for the wrong reasons.”
On 12.13.13 I posted a piece called “Druggy Wolf of Wall Street is New Scarface”:
“I saw Martin Scorsese‘s The Wolf of Wall Street (Paramount, 12.25) for the second time last night, and it felt just as wild and manic as it did the first time. (And without an ounce of fat — it’s very tightly constructed.)
“And yet it’s a highly moral film…mostly. Scorsese, Leonardo DiCaprio, Jonah Hill and all the rest are never really ‘in the room’ with these depraved Stratton Oakmont brokers. They’re obviously juiced with the spirit of play-acting and pumping the film up and revving their engines, but each and every scene has an invisible subtitle that says ‘do you see get what kind of sick diseased fucks these guys were?…do you understand that Jordan Belfort‘s exploits redefined the term ‘asshole’ for all time?’
“Why, then, did I say that Wolf is ‘mostly’ moral? Because it also revels in the bacchanalian exploits of Belfort and his crew. It broadly satirizes Roman-orgy behavior while winking at it. (Or half-winking.) Unlike the Queens-residing goombahs in Goodfellas, whom he obviously feels a mixed affection for, Scorsese clearly doesn’t like or relate to the Stratton Oakmont guys. But the 71 year-old director also knows first-hand how enjoyable drug-abuse can be for cocky Type-A personalities in groups, and he conveys this in spades.
“Wolf is clearly ‘personal’ for Scorsese. Like everyone else who came of age in the ’60s and ’70s, he is believed to have ‘indulged’ to some extent. (Whatever the truth of it, 1977’s New York, New York has long been regarded as a huge cocaine movie.) One presumes that Scorsese is living a sensible and relatively healthy life these days, but boy, does he remember!
“And it hit me last night that The Wolf of Wall Street is going to be enjoyed by audiences as a rollicking memory-lane drug party. Anyone who lived any kind of Caligula-type life in their late teens and 20s is going to get off on it. Because as deplorable and outrageous as the film’s party behavior seems, it’s also oddly infectious.”