Margot Robbie, Please Don’t Stop Doing This in Your Movies

The Big Picture

  • Margot Robbie has established herself as a silver-screen legend through her incredible performances over a span of seven months in Babylon, Asteroid City, and Barbie.
  • Robbie has a gift for depicting and critiquing patriarchal power structures in her films, as seen in I, Tonya, and her later works like Birds of Prey.
  • Barbie stands out from Robbie’s other films as it not only critiques patriarchal power structures but also explores how male characters are affected by societal expectations, giving the film a distinct identity.

Barbie leading lady Margot Robbie has been a performer to watch out for ever since she left such a strong impression on audiences in Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street in 2022, but she’s especially hit her stride as an actor in recent years. Specifically, between seven months from December 2022 to July 2023, Robbie delivered a trio of incredible performances that couldn’t be more different from one another. First, she played aspiring movie star Nellie LaRoy in Babylon, a performance that exuded endless amounts of energy from Robbie. Here, she was featured doing everything from loudly vomiting on the bourgeoisie to tenderly coming to terms with the concept of death. Her poignant line deliveries and physicality in her final on-screen moments are truly astonishing to watch.

As if that weren’t enough, Robbie also appears in a cameo role as Actress/Wife in Asteroid City, a role where she delivers one of the very best Wes Anderson performances ever in just a few minutes of screen time. Her delicate line deliveries and subdued communication of aching emotions of loss devastate the heart. Then, of course, there’s her work as Barbie in Barbie, a performance that feels like a worthy successor to Will Ferrell in Elf or Amy Adams in Enchanted but is far from just a rehash of those earlier dynamite performances. Robbie truly becomes Barbie here, without a trace of irony undercutting her work. Yes, just over these seven months of cinema, Robbie has established herself as a silver-screen legend. Across two of these movies and other works Robbie has inhabited, though, she’s also defined a gift for something else: cinematic depictions of tweaking patriarchal power structures.

RELATED: 9 Must-Watch Margot Robbie Performances From ‘I, Tonya’ to ‘Barbie’

Margot Robbie Was Destined to Skewer Male Power Structures

Naomi Lapaglia looking annoyed in The Wolf of Wall Street
Image via Paramount Pictures

Margot Robbie’s penchant for headlining films that tackled patriarchal problems was perhaps established from the get-go in her first major American cinema role in The Wolf of Wall Street in Naomi Lapaglia. Much like earlier Martin Scorsese directorial efforts like The King of Comedy or Taxi Driver, The Wolf of Wall Street functions as an indictment of the type of people who get crowned “famous” and “powerful” in the world. Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio) being able to get away with so much debauchery and criminal activity is encapsulated by the end of the film depicting him still hawking his warped mindset to the masses as a public speaker. The lack of guilt for Belfort’s actions is inextricably tied to him being a white cis-male.

Save for a handful of moments where Lapaglia exudes a sense of dominating power over Belfort, there aren’t a ton of opportunities within The Wolf of Wall Street for Robbie to explicitly burn down the patriarchy. However, inhabiting this movie did establish this performer’s affinity for inhabiting projects that are critical of male privilege and the way the world orients itself around harmful gender norms. Though she’d been headlining the short-lived ABC drama Pan Am just two years earlier, Robbie was already leaning into auteurist works that held back no punches in commenting on gender-based double standards in American society.

Margot Robbie Didn’t Always Skewer the Patriarchy

Image via Warner Bros.

“I want you to scream for me,” The Legend of Tarzan baddie Captain Leon Rom (Christoph Waltz) informs the captive Jane Clayton in a pivotal moment from this David Yates blockbuster. “Like a damsel?” Clayton responds with indignation, a comment meant to function as commentary on the typical subservient roles women in blockbusters are forced to play. Whatever intended “subversive” subtext was supposed to go here, though, got lost in translation. Clayton spends much of The Legend of Tarzan waiting for a beefy man to save her, with the script offering this character little to do than listen to the belabored exposition from Rom.

This unfortunate role encapsulated the struggles Margot Robbie seemed to grapple with in the wake of her Wolf of Wall Street role. Hollywood saw her as eye candy for male-led blockbusters, while her talents were much more varied than that. Rather than getting to make cracks in any glass ceilings, Robbie’s first post-Wolf of Wall Street parts often inhabited movies that reinforced toxic gender norms. The 2016 film Suicide Squad, featuring Robbie in her first appearance as Harley Quinn, was an unfortunate example of this. The film’s cutesy handling of Harley Quinn/Joker’s romantic dynamic undermined the autonomy of Quinn while director David Ayer’s camera ogled Robbie’s body to a degree that made Michael Bay’s Transformers shot choices seem subtle. Robbie deserved better than this.

Luckily, at the end of 2017, she would get just that with her turn as Tonya Harding in I, Tonya. Rather than just screaming for a man to save her, Robbie was now playing a version of Harding that could talk directly to the camera, exist as a fully dimensional person (complete with flaws and sympathetic moments), and confront the gender-based biases that informed the rampant demonization of Harding. Robbie was now in the driver’s seat of a story that was conscious of patriarchy-informed hardships and she excelled in that position. There was no going back to muted love interest roles after this. Even the next time she played Harley Quinn, in the 2020 feature Birds of Prey, she’d now be the lead and decisively angling to take on institutions of male power.

Margot Robbie as Barbie, smiling in front of a hot pink slide in Barbieland
Image via Warner Bros.

Ironically, one of Margot Robbie’s more notable creative misfires in recent years was with a project that initially seemed perfect to continue her love for projects that tore down patriarchal entities. Specifically, the 2019 film Bombshell saw Robbie playing the fictional figure Kayla Pospisil and explored events leading up to the ousting of Roger Ailes from the Fox News empire. A movie revolving around the culture of sexual abuse that allegedly dominated the Fox News workspaces would sound like a perfect continuation of the themes of I, Tonya, and The Wolf of Wall Street. In execution, though, the film painted figures like Megyn Kelly as too one-note. This particular Robbie project ignored an opportunity to explore how privileged women (namely cis-gendered white women) often contribute to patriarchal power structures for easy benefit. Two months after Bombshell, Robbie headlined Birds of Prey, a DC Comics superhero movie that explored many of the themes of that Fox News drama in a much more interesting fashion.

For one thing, this version of Quinn, now detached from The Joker, is a much more compelling and multi-faceted person. For another, the ensemble nature of the film’s cast allows various perspectives from various women to shine. Now Robbie’s films are making room for a variety of manifestations of women being endlessly agitated about being bound in by male power structures. This trend would continue with the various raunchy ladies in Babylon, with Robbie’s character and her struggles within the film industry being just one way we see the gender-based woes of vintage Hollywood filtered through a female gaze.

Then there’s Barbie, Robbie’s most lucrative star vehicle, and the one that matches the maximalist visual sensibilities of Barbieland to create an equally pronounced condemnation of patriarchal power structures. What’s especially interesting about Barbie is that this feature does emphasize the way male characters like Allan (Michael Cera) or Ken (Ryan Gosling) are hurt by patriarchal expectations of how men are “supposed” to behave. Though nowhere near the crux of the entire feature, this does provide a noticeable difference between Barbie to prior Robbie films like Bombshell or Birds of Prey and ensures Barbie has a distinct identity within this leading lady’s filmography. Given how humorously and insightfully Barbie probes matters related to gender, it’s doubtful Robbie will cease exploring works that poke fun at powerful dudes anytime soon.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *