This was the one and only thing we ever posted on our blogger. It didn't make sense to have a blogger anymore, so we moved this over here.
Directed by: Paul Feig
Starring: Kristen Wiig as Erin Gilbert
Melissa McCarthy as Abby Yates
Kate McKinnon as Jillian Holtzmann
Leslie Jones as Patty Tolan
Chris Hemsworth as Kevin
Neil Casey as Rowan North
Spoiler-Free: While not quite on par with the original, this reboot of the classic 80’s franchise stands on its own. Everything about it is decent, which overall is good enough. If this movie’s main goal is to sell toys or get children (especially girls) interested in a new franchise, then Sony definitely hit it out of the park. While something could be said for the absence of nostalgia (this is definitely not your parent’s Ghostbusters), this isn’t where the movie falters. Parts of the movie seem flat, but for an unexpected reason. A case can be made that a large portion of the movie is steeped in female-centric culture. Now before anyone gets their sexist-asshole pitchforks out, let me be specific. It is my own misinterpretation and lack of understanding about female-centric culture that causes this, not anything specifically about the movie itself. When I look through my typical lens of how I view the world, there are parts of the movie that I just don’t understand. But that’s more because I’m a man than anything else, and I’ll admit, it took me about 2/3 of the movie before I noticed this. When I adjusted my viewing lens to understand that I was watching a movie that represents a completely different culture, it made complete sense, and I enjoyed it much more. Maybe if I had gone into the theater in that frame of mind, the movie would have gotten an even higher score. At any rate, I enjoyed myself, and while the box office numbers aren’t really the kind of digits that start a franchise, hopefully the toy line will compensate. Because honestly, by the end of it, I really wanted more.
Spoilers: We don’t always think about culture because we don’t always see it. The comfortable confines of our homes and computer screens prevent us from being forced to think about how we might be different from one another. But even in these atmospheres, there are two intermingling cultures that are almost impossible to separate: male culture and female culture. This might be upsetting, because the idea isn’t very popular to some people when identified by its proper name: feminism. When broken down to its bare parts, feminism is just the idea that men and women actually have separate cultures, and that in our society, male culture dominates female culture. That’s it. Everything else, from equality to man-hating femi-natzis, are just different ways that this idea is applied to an individual’s lifestyle. I believe that the big problem with this idea is the misunderstanding of what female-centric culture really is. In all actuality, it’s really not all that different from male-centric culture. And I think this reboot of Ghostbusters is a really good example of that.
The Story: Erin Gilbert (Wiig) is a professor at Columbia University waiting to get tenure. While she’s waiting, a book she wrote with Abby Yates (McCarthy) emerges on Amazon. The book focuses on the supernatural, and Gilbert is worried that the book will prevent her from getting tenure. (Which it does.) Gilbert visits Yates and is introduced to Jillian Holtzmann (McKinnon), an engineer. After a chance encounter with a ghost in a haunted mansion, Gilbert, Yates and Holtzmann start their Ghostbusters business. They hire Kevin (Hemsworth) as their receptionist. After discovering a ghost in the subway, Patty Tolan (Jones) joins the Ghostbusters. The four of them discover a notorious plot to unleash the underworld on New York City. The very peculiar Rowan North (Casey) is believed to be thwarted when he commits suicide, but it turns out that this act was just another stage in his plan.
The Actors: Wiig does a decent job as the main protagonist in the story, with her arc nailing key points during the movie. She goes from refuting a past belief, to having that belief confirmed, to not being denied validation by her peers, to putting herself in danger in order to save one of her teammates. While Wiig’s acting is satisfactory, I can’t help but feel her particular brand of humor wasn’t meant for this role. She plays the straight man, being an avatar for the audience to view the world through. And it’s comfortable enough. But it feels like she lacks the serious clout needed for this role. I enjoy Wiig’s humor, but this particular responsibility needs more than she brings to the table. While she has her moments (specifically treating Hemsworth as a piece of sex-meat), she falls just short of the leader needed.
McCarthy is a riot, sitting comfortably in a role to play the devil’s advocate against Wiig. She has some great lines and we see a bit of McCarthy stretching her acting muscles just past what we’re used to seeing her do. (Although, not by much.) There could have been more for her to do, but with four actors sharing the spotlight on what seems like a fairly short running time, it’s understandable if there just wasn’t room for her to spread out. The disappointing part is the feeling that Wiig and McCarthy didn’t have the charisma a duo of this complexity should have. They both kinda felt like they just showed up. While in the context of the movie, this is an utter disappointment, it does say something about both Wiig and McCarthy’s acting abilities. Even in an instance where things didn’t seem to quite mesh, they kept everything together and made an enjoyable movie.
McKinnon, for me, is one of the gems of this movie. As an engineer, she creates all of the technology the Ghostbusters use to fight and capture ghosts. And I do have to say, in the sci-fi department, the design team nailed the weaponry. I want one. Of everything. McKinnon seems to be having more fun on screen, really exploring the quirks and idiosyncrasies of her character. Some have speculated that her character might be gay. I can see the speculation. But for me, she secretes sexuality on a primal level. I cannot explain why, but Holtzmann might be one of the most attractive representations of a woman I’ve ever seen on camera. Even besides that, her dialogue was witty and more fitting than most of the other characters. And during the third act, she lets loose on a group of ghosts, proving without a shadow of a doubt that she is the most bad-ass Ghostbuster ever put on screen.
Jones, again, wasn’t given enough to do. She’s sassy, and does exceptionally well balancing both female and African American cultural aspects without seeming like a racial stereotype. Jones owns her role, and her charisma with McKinnon feels more like what it should have been with Wiig and McCarthy. She’s never flat, her humor was golden, and if given the room to spread out, I think she would have really outshined the other actresses. While her reasoning for joining the Ghostbusters seems to be more than a stretch, it was an aspect I was willing to suspend my belief on, purely for the joy of seeing more of her comedy. I’m really looking forward to seeing more of Jones in this role, especially if she’s playing against McKinnon.
Hemsworth is… There are just no words for the genius of Hemsworth in this movie. He plays a really stupid receptionist, and then later possessed by Casey’s Rowan. I really believe Hemsworth should do more comedies. He is the ditzy blond of the movie, and he’s probably the most comfortable in his role out of everyone, save McKinnon. His portrayal of Rowan at the end of the movie was… Eh, horrible really. I did not believe him for one second as the villain. Another utter disappointment. But given all the hilariousness throughout the entire movie Hemsworth serves up, (along with the transforming, near-sacrificial ending with Wiig and McCarthy), I’m willing to forgive him. It’s hard not to say if there’s one reason to go see it, it’s him. While I don’t want to say the male in a female-centric movie should put your butt in a seat, he really did steal the show.
Casey is just as serviceable as Wiig and McCarthy for me. His creepiness stemmed more from his actual appearance than anything he did or said on screen. While he did a fine job as a villain, it seemed a little more cartoony than the movie called for. It should have been taken a bit darker. Not super dark, but Casey helps remind us that where the original was made great by taking itself seriously and allowing comedy within a sci-fi movie, the new Ghostbusters reboot is a self-aware irony; a comedy allowing sci-fi. Unfortunately, it’s another role being phoned in. But again, if that’s Casey phoning in his role, at least he’s a good enough actor to not let the movie fall apart around him. Casey is just as much the professional as Wiig and McCarthy, it’s just blanding to see all three of them show up for a paycheck on something with such a namesake.
The movie itself, as a whole, is good. The plot is a little lacking, in that it seems like the villain’s motivation is ridiculous. But here’s the first opportunity to compare male and female culture. Casey’s portrayal of an individual that feels like he hasn’t received any respect from another human being his entire life is on point. One could compare the way he’s treated and the way he feels to the way any woman walking down the street might feel at any given time. In our overall society, man is dominate. He is normal. Therefore, anything not man should be viewed as less and treated as different. Rowan North is not manly. He’s socially awkward and super intelligent. Because he’s not manly, he’s viewed by society as not normal. And because he’s been treated this way for his entire life, he wants revenge on all of society for outcasting him instead of trying to understand him for what he is. This is one of the largest arguments for equality within feminism. And in my opinion, it’s the right argument. We don’t always actively realize it, but we (both men and women) treat women differently just because they’re not men. It must be one of the most frustrating aspects of being a woman.
These subtle hints at female culture are littered throughout the film in a way that don’t seem like director Paul Feig is trying to beat you over the head with them. In fact, it’s more inviting in scope, allowing a peek into female culture balanced on legs of comedy and science fiction. While the movie right now might tank horribly in theaters, I can see it being viewed as a pioneering endeavor thirty years from now. It doesn’t shout that women can be interested in comedy and the paranormal, it just states it as a matter of fact, a passing comment in a zeitgeist of ideologies fighting to contradict that message. It’s smart, and Paul Feig, while he didn’t make a perfect movie, should be proud of what he accomplished here.
Take for instance the relationship between Erin and Kevin. To Erin, Kevin is only a sexy piece of meat. He’s not hired for his skills; he’s hired for his looks. There are numerous times throughout the movie where the Ghostbusters address Kevin by his physical attributes rather than as an individual. And he’s as dumb as brick dust. Erin is flustered around him and makes a handful of references about having sex with him. More or less, it’s sexual harassment, and Kevin is too stupid to notice. Hemsworth does an exceptionally good job playing it off as comedy. But in reality, it’s just swapping genders between typical man and woman relationships in the workplace. There’s two different things happening here, and Feig & crew pull off both seamlessly. First, the role reversal isn’t shoved down your throat, so you don’t notice a point about women in the workplace being made. Second, they’re not making a point about how men treat women and reversing the genders. They’re making the point that anyone is susceptible to sexual harassment, and that it’s more about the leadership role and the power that role holds that causes individuals to sexually harass. While it’s true that women suffer from sexual harassment on a far greater basis than men do, it’s only true because men hold most of the power. When we look at the problem in this way, it takes the blame off of men and puts it on the role. The ability to do this makes it easier to address the problem and hopefully create solutions. A counter argument might state that if it weren’t for men and the patriarchal system we live in, sexual harassment wouldn’t occur at all. My response is that you’re right. But stating the obvious isn’t a solution. Trying to win an argument by placing blame on a single group is also a product of the patriarchal system, and until we being to think differently about these issues, we will never fix the problem.
Another really good peek into female-centric culture is a scene involving a thanksgiving-style ghost parade. Holtzmann, Patty and Abby come across the parade and make a reference about normally liking this kind of thing. They slowly come to the realization that these balloons are not what they’re looking for, but before they can get away, Holtzmann “makes eye contact.” This causes a barrage of balloon ghosts to run toward the trio. They fight them off with their Proton Packs, only to be smothered by the last one in line. Patty and Abby both make comments about being uncomfortable while Holtzmann makes a comment about a dream where she dies this way. If this isn’t a metaphor for a night out at the club, I don’t know what is. How many horror stories have you heard about a group of women going to the club for a night of dancing and being barraged by an endless wave of over-inflated buffoons? And Holtzmann’s fear of being smothered to death by one of these buffoons is something many, many women can relate to. Again, Feig isn’t screaming a woman’s rights message from the balconies of the theater. He’s just giving you a subtle little look at female-centric culture, probably in the hopes that you’ll notice.
I don’t consider this movie a feminist movie. It might be easy to read into that by the way I wrote this blog. What I watched was a movie made by women, for everyone. All of these things we mistake as hardcore feminist messages hidden between the scenes are just aspects of a culture we don’t always fully recognize. From the “controversial” queef joke at the start to firing into a ghost’s groin at the end, this is humor that we don’t immediately understand the same way we don’t immediately understand humor from African American or Latino cultures. It’s funny. We just don’t get it. But only because we aren’t regularly exposed to female-centric culture the way the writers, director and actresses are probably exposed to it. When I realized this about myself and the way I was viewing the movie, I remembered something. The lens with which we consume our media is just as important as the media itself. We can choose to shoot down Feig’s reboot as a gimmicky capitalization on a feminist market. Or we can actually try to understand what it is that Feig and crew created, and appreciate it for what it is.
- Benjamin Abel