Let’s all go to the movies

“Let’s all go to the lobby, let’s all go to the lobby,” a catchy clip sung by a dancing popcorn bucket and other concession treats, still rings in my mind from my days tearing tickets and sweeping popcorn at the Royal Knight Cinema.

For many high-schoolers like myself then, it was the perfect first job: flexible times to work outside of school, plenty of down time between sets, and the perks of being in the know of what movies were coming to town next or attending a pre-screening before the public debut. Hearing the buzz as the shows let out revealed the power of a good film and the magic of experiencing that with others in the same room.

Over the years, the two movie theaters downtown that I had spent so much time in slipped into disrepair and eventually closed, reflecting trends across the country as cinemas struggled to compete with the ever-growing content on streaming services and the lingering effects of the coronavirus pandemic.

This spring, the Sanctuary Cinema opened, and, after many years, we have a movie theater again downtown.

This past weekend was the first time I had seen a movie since 2018. What better film to kick off a return to the joy of cinema and filmmaking than the drenched-in-pink, omnipresent-in-your-instagram-feed, pop-culture-figure-of-the-moment-inspired film, “Barbie”?

Apparently I wasn’t the only one pulled in by the intrigue of the film, as it brought in over $155 million in ticket sales in its opening weekend, breaking a few records. It became the most successful first weekend release for a film directed by a woman (Greta Gerwig). It set the record for any film that was not a sequel, remake, or superhero property. Together with “Oppenhemier,” the two films achieved the biggest three-day opening weekend, post-pandemic — and the fourth-biggest movie weekend ever.


Has cinema returned? Have we rediscovered the magic of going to the movies? Who would have thought that “Barbie,” based on the premise of the 1950s perfect plastic doll, would be the one to signal its return?

Despite its rosy exterior, the film isn’t about dolls at all, but the protagonists’ (Barbie and Ken) journey of self-discovery in the real world. The film grapples with questions of what it’s like to be a real person — a real woman — in our very real 2023 world: what paradoxical and impossible expectations are placed on us, what it is like to change (and get cellulite) and grow old, what it is like to have the ache of sadness yet still find joy. Ken has his own journey into discovering the patriarchy (or whether horses actually rule the real world), discovering his own identity, and exploring his own unrealistic expectations he faces.

Barbieland, like the real world, isn’t so perfect at all.

Despite its perfect plastic promise, “Barbie” grapples with this imperfect world and investigates those very human questions. With doses of humor, it explores femininity, masculinity, motherhood, growing old, finding meaning, and finding joy. Given its box office success (and the contradictory chatter online about its messages), those questions clearly resonate with audiences in our country, as well.

Movies have always been a reflection of society at that moment. The best films allow us to look at that reflection from afar, inspect it, question it, challenge it, and, often, dream for a better version of it. The stories we tell allow us to explore the questions we face.

Sometimes, we get an answer.

Sometimes, we just get more questions.

Is cinema back?

Whether you’re team “Barbie,” “Oppenheimer,” or Barbenheimmer, this weekend showed us that there are still important stories to tell that allow us to explore questions about ourselves, the roles we are told we should play, and the world we want to live in.

And, as the throngs of moviegoers clad in Barbie pink snapping photos under bubblegum balloon arches and hot pink Barbie boxes, it feels good to explore those questions together.

All while having a bit of fuchsia-filled fun.

Anne Gentry graduated from Brown University with a degree in comparative literature and has studied in Italy and South Australia. She is currently executive director of the Alpena Downtown Development Authority.


Today's breaking news and more in your inbox

I'm interested in (please check all that apply)
Are you a paying subscriber to the newspaper? *

Starting at $2.99/week.

Subscribe Today