Ghostbusters lights em’ up
In 1984’s Ghostbusters, one of the advertising slogans for the group was ‘we’re ready to believe you’; in 2016’s Ghostbusters the appropriate slogan for the all-female crew would be ‘why won’t anyone believe us?’ The gender politics of women demanding to be taken seriously in their chosen profession has never been as fun as it’s depicted in Ghostbusters. Co-writer and director, Paul Feig, and co-writer, Katie Dippold, have smuggled the struggle into their reinvention of a 30-year-old property with a joke hit-rate off the P.K.E meter.
On the cusp of getting tenure at Columbia University, Professor Erin Gilbert (Kristen Wiig) tries to deny her association with a paranormal book she wrote with a former colleague, Abby Yates (Melissa McCarthy). Gilbert discovers Yates is still on the hunt for ghosts and has developed technology to track and trap them with the help of a nuclear engineer, Jillian Holtzmann (Kate McKinnon). When people start reporting ghost sightings around New York City, the group recruits a history buff/subway worker, Patty Tolan (Leslie Jones) to form: the Ghostbusters.
Prove it. That’s what’s demanded of the new Ghostbusters in their quest to verify ghosts are real. At every point in Ghostbusters, despite mounting evidence, the team is viewed as frauds at the intersection of science and the paranormal. They post footage of a ghost on YouTube and one comment responds with: ‘bitches can’t be bustin ghosts’, news bulletins use the Ghostbusters for their silly story and government officials acknowledge the ghost problem in private while denying it in public. The Ghostbusters can’t catch a break and it’s from within those underdog sighs that Feig and Dippold find the humour in the team’s quest for respect. And it becomes farcical—on top of the already outlandish premise—the lengths the team has to go to before anyone will listen to their warnings. New York City teeters on the edge of the apocalypse before they’re acknowledged as legit! Feig and Dippold increase the degree of difficulty for the all-female Ghostbusters appropriately because it’s in direct correlation with the archaic challenges thrown at women in their chosen career paths in our society. Further emphasising this point is their receptionist, Kevin (Chris Hemsworth), a handsome moron able to drift through life in a white male bubble of ignorant bliss. You know Kevin is going to be okay. He’s never going to be doubted or scrutinised because of his gender and he’s a character mined for jokes highlighting what he can get away with while still keeping his job/staying alive. Hemsworth is deployed in a similar way to Jason Statham in Spy; the perfect comedic foil while parodying a type of entitled machismo with a little self-parody.
Wiig, McCarthy, McKinnon and Jones are a dream ensemble and Feig balances the team dynamic without every playing favourties. The late Harold Ramis (who the film is dedicated to) once said ‘comedy lives in the two shot’ and Feig works on this theory in multiplies to ensure not a moment is missed with the interactions and reactions of the four dynamic leads. Feig’s direction drags a little when the action ramps up; notable in the bottled-up final showdown that feels like someone switched on the horrid ‘motion smoothing’ of a high definition television. Ghostbusters does also frequently stop down demonstrate how their tech works in order to facilitate laying the groundwork for when it’s finally unleashed and these scenes impede momentum.
Aside from each character’s flamboyance, there’s a strong bond that forms between the four as they’re defined as outsiders. Wiig’s Gilbert tells a story about when she saw a ghost as a child and how her classmates nicknamed her ‘ghost girl’ to bully her. It’s hard not to read the definition of ‘ghost girl’ as close to ‘fake geek girl’, a term used by insecure men to try to discredit the fandom of women in pop culture. When you break it down, it’s evident that while pop culture entities went mainstream, the male dominated space (I loathe to mention the push by to boycott this film) further pushed vocal female voices into a subculture of its own that was once the realm of the downtrodden ‘geek’ in the 80s and 90s. The villain (Neil Casey) of Ghostbusters resembles the traditional male geek, out to get revenge on the world that labelled him a ‘freak’, yet he shares common ground with the Ghostbusters as an outcast yet their paths diverge in how they harness their marginalisation for good or evil. Although things are changing in pop culture fandom, slowly, the parallels are there between the Ghostbusters and the perspective of the female experience in pop culture. And as it has become common with outsiders, these characters bond, an unbreakable pact forms between the foursome born of their belief in each other when the world questions their motives. We want to be believed, it’s the base impulse that crosses gender lines where Ghostbusters digs in when the laughs die down and dazzling ghost special effects fade.
There’s a point in Ghostbusters where it begins to take a stride of pride away from the legacy of the 1984 film. There are surprise cameos and references to acknowledge what has come before, but as the film grows to function as its own entity, the ties to the original (while still enjoyable) come across as stodgy. The cameos make the case for why a different take on the material was necessary verses wheeling out older actors to sleepwalk through a Ghostbusters 3. When all the baggage from the original Ghostbusters falls away there’s time to indulge in the revival because 2016’s Ghostbusters is a blast with barbs for gender politics snuck in-between big laughs.
The Popcorn Junkie.