Last night Jake, Ashley, and I enjoyed an acoustic rehearsal on Ashley’s roof deck (sans Zina, whose drums would never make it up the four flights of stairs) followed by a band trip to see Ghostbusters!
Long story short: Ghostbusters was a slightly better-than-average summer blockbuster.
Almost entire unrelated to that fact: I loved it. I think all four lead actresses were phenomenal and I am now obsessed with Kate McKinnon.
Before you all say, “Duh, Peter, you are a feminist fanboy, this was bound to happen,” let me tell you the longer story about how I legitimately had no reason to like this movie yet still managed not to be a total tantrum-throwing child about it.
The original Ghostbusters is one of a group of sacrosanct films from my youth that I loved not just for the kid-friendly silliness, but for the references and adult themes that would continue to reveal themselves to me as a grew older. It’s also probably my most-quoted movie of all time thanks to “There is no Dana, only Zuul” and “Don’t cross the streams!”
Despite that, and being a white male in my 30s, I didn’t see the coming of a new, all-female Ghostbusters flick as some sort of threat to my precious and beloved film or my childhood memories. I saw it as what it seemed to be – a cash-in on ripe intellectual property by a relatively hot director and his major star.
That I find Paul Feig and his entire cast to be completely and totally unfunny just meant I assumed this movie wouldn’t be for me. Particularly, I find Kate McKinnon deeply unfunny. I have never once laughed at her on Saturday Night Live, even when I watch her supposedly side-splitting skits.
To be fair, I assume that about all comedies. If I were to generalize and say I have not liked a mainstream funny thing in over a decade unless Tina Fey or drag queens were involved in it, that wouldn’t be that gross of an exaggeration. The last “funny” movie I saw in the theatre was Little Miss Sunshine, the only modern comedy (hah!) we own on blu-ray is Whedon’s Much Ado About Nothing, I loathe shows like The Office and Parks & Rec, and I keep a stone-face through most entire episodes of latter-day Saturday Night Live.
What can I say? Alongside Ghostbusters, I grew up on videos Robin Williams and George Carlin as well as Dana Carvey era SNL – everything else pales in comparison.
I probably would have left it at that and skipped this movie to see it later on Netflix, but then the fury of the man-children began. The silly narrative that this film was a ruinous tragedy of epic proportions predated its lame first trailer, which was honestly no lamer than the trailer to any other lukewarm summer blockbuster. The story that we’re being force-fed feminism because an action movie is starring solely women is like saying the still all-male A-Team flick lead by Liam Neeson and Bradley Cooper was meant to turn us all gay.
(Which is to say: maybe there is a kernel of truth in both, but just a kernel.)
As a fellow obsessed fan who can be a little over-the-top in my opinions (really, ask me about what Marvel’s doing with X-Men), I find these folks to range from ridiculous to odious. I mean, I hate a lot of stuff pretty massively, but I don’t spend my time in YouTube comments talking about it.
(That’s why I have a blog! HEY-OH!)
Thus, there I was in the theatre – partially out of feminist solidarity and partially out of car-accident rubbernecking. Either way, I was willing to contribute my dollars to the film’s bottom line to help offset all the man-babies whinging about boycotting it.
Ghostbusters was a totally okay blockbuster. It had a sensible plot that didn’t always leave enough room for the characters to breath, the silliest moments and potty humor were always forced, and its final act was a train wreck.
(That last point is true of the majority of modern blockbusters and it’s largely the fault of the completely insane final act of the original Ghostbusters which could have left well-enough-alone with fighting the crazy ghosts and demon dogs but decided to top that with the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man.)
However, I wasn’t really focused on all of that as we watched the film in an otherwise empty IMAX theatre, smile plastered to my face. The thing I kept thinking is, “seeing a story about women is delightful.” I couldn’t think of the last time I watched a film full of women that was completely free of conflict about romance or looks, but here both are only addressed in brief comedic bits by Kristen Wiig.
The women are just… people. Colleagues. Scientists and experts. True friends in the way male characters get to be all the time in movies like A-Team, Avengers, and Star Trek, but less the toxic masculinity bullshit that can infect those relationships. I didn’t notice this at the time, but today I read reviews that highlighted that these women even eat on film – and not tiny, attractive portions, but pizzas and hoagies.
I was particularly obsessed with Kate McKinnon, as I understand is the case with the majority of people who saw the film. I felt like it explained why I dislike her so strongly on SNL – it’s because McKinnon is a movie star. Watching her create a fully-developed character with a movie-long arc was a revelation; her characters on SNL don’t have enough time to breath. That the script burdened her with a bunch of cringe-y bits didn’t detract from her performance at all – they actually enhanced it.
The other three stars were all great. Wiig does the put-upon normal person schtick charmingly, Leslie Jones found human layers in the obnoxiously underwritten Patty, and I’ve never found Melissa McCarthy to be so human – probably because she wasn’t responsible for many of the big laughs.
Of the supporting cast, only Cecily Strong felt a little off to me in her winking turn as the mayor’s assistant. And, it’s weird to say this about a lead from a Marvel film franchise, but this might be Chris Hemsworth’s true breakthrough performance – his sassy and extraordinarily dumb Kevin holds his own against the four stars.
While I missed the time that Bill Murray had to develop as a character on his own in the original, I totally loved the plot of Wiig getting sucked back in to the paranormal by the true believer McCarthy and her sidekick, who is having fun as long as she’s doing mad science. I also loved Jones as a bystander who becomes obsessed rather than a random applicant. This version played up the novice-ness of the team, which makes for a terrific initial ghost-catching, but contributed to the weird third act pacing where they are suddenly badass experts.
(The original gets around this via montage of the team becoming good at their jobs, thus making the “team as experts” to be the main plot point of the climax. These days, you need to root for underdogs, I suppose.)
I’m typically the one who can’t shut up about a movie after it’s over – whether that’s positive or negative – but as the lights came up it was Jake and Ashley who were gushing about how much they loved the film. I chatted them up as we walked back to our car, but I was mostly still in my head thinking the same thing I was thinking while smiling through the movie:
“Why can’t we have the same range of stories told with women as stars as we do men?” I loved Ghostbusters because of that more than any special effect, but maybe in a world full of movies headlined by non-sexualized women it’d be forgettable.
I’d love to live there.