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Greta Gerwig’s “Barbie” elevated a Mattel-produced toy adaptation into a work of art that drew near-universal acclaim — but extended references to the one most famously difficult writers in modernist literature were still a bridge too far for test audiences.

One of the funniest sequences in the film takes place when Margot Robbie’s eponymous doll meets a group of so-called “Weird Barbies,” many of whom are references to real ill-advised dolls that Mattel produced over the years. Gerwig previously told IndieWire that the scene originally featured a joke about a fake Barbie inspired by Marcel Proust, the French writer whose sprawling epic “In Search of Lost Time” is considered one of the most challenging novels ever written

Lucy Boynton in THE GREATEST HITS. Photo by  Merie Weismiller Wallace, Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures. © 2024 Searchlight Pictures All Rights Reserved.

The Pale Blue Eye. Christian Bale as Augustus Landor in The Pale Blue Eye.  Cr. Scott Garfield/Netflix © 2022

“I think I got most of them in there,” Gerwig said when asked about alternative Barbies that didn’t make the final cut. “We did have a more extensive thing that we were doing with a doll that had never been made and should never be made, which was Proust Barbie, but that was too strange for everybody.”

Proust Barbie was played by Lucy Boynton, who still appears in the background despite having most of her lines cut from the film. In a recent appearance on SiriusXM’s “The Spotlight with Jessica Shaw,” the actress reflected on losing the scenes after learning that test audience members were unfamiliar with Proust.

“Proust Barbie is only softly in the background of the ‘Barbie’ film, because in the test screenings, it turns out that contemporary audiences don’t know who Proust is, so the joke doesn’t quite land,” Boynton said. “[It’s] a little bit of a heartbreaker that we are kind of losing touch with that history, but hopefully this will then be a trigger for people to read up on Marcel Proust. It was a shocker.”

Boynton’s disappointment with the lack of public literacy is understandable, but Gerwig’s experiment could pave the way for the next toy adaptation to be even bolder. Perhaps now Margot Robbie’s cinematic take on “Monopoly” will feel emboldened to include a scene about Friedrich Hayek’s “The Road to Serfdom.”



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