When the Barbenheimer phenomenon vaulted two summer movies to blockbuster glory, it was clear how the films diverged when it came to the trajectories of their female characters. Stereotypical Barbie, played by Margot Robbie in Greta Gerwig’s candy-bright confection, winds up trading the plasticine perfection of her Malibu Dreamhouse for the mixed-bag freedoms of the real world. In the case of Kitty Oppenheimer—wife to the so-called American Prometheus, brought to simmering life by Emily Blunt in Christopher Nolan’s biopic—she is still, in the metaphorical sense, confined to the box. A biologist who winds up relegated to the roles of wife and mother, she remains unfulfilled, “bristling against the constraints of womanhood at that time,” Blunt says in a video about her Oppenheimer performance, which has garnered a raft of best-supporting-actress nominations. Kitty is a “really brilliant brain that kind of went to waste at the ironing board, and she suffered for it.”
If Kitty has the force of an undetonated weapon, what Blunt unleashed at Sunday’s Critics Choice Awards 2024 was pure bombshell—red paillettes glowing like fire under the lights. “We were going for a modern twist on Old Hollywood,” stylist Jessica Paster says by phone, shortly after Blunt decamped for the carpet. (She joined her Oppenheimer cast members onstage to accept the award for best acting ensemble.) “The minute I saw that dress, I knew that I wanted it for Emily. I said, ‘Please put it on hold—I just don’t know for what!’” Such was the coup de foudre sparked last July when the one-shoulder Giorgio Armani Privé look appeared on the runway. “The movie is set in the ’40s and ’50s, and that’s what I love about this silhouette,” Paster says. “More important,” she adds, “it has the femininity, but it’s a very strong dress.”
Much of that magnetism—glamour at its most grounded—is due to Blunt’s personality, funny and cerebral and warm. Another quotient is her bedrock team. “We’re all in tune with each other,” says Paster, speaking about the others in the creative triumvirate: Jenn Streicher on makeup, Laini Reeves on hair. Streicher comes to the phone, tracing their origin story to the 2007 awards season following The Devil Wears Prada. “I had actually been working with her husband, John [Krasinski], and they had just started dating,” the makeup artist recalls. “I was like, ‘Yeah, if you ever need anybody, just let me know.’” The next week, Blunt called up about the SAG Awards. “John always says that she stole me from him,” Streicher says with a laugh.