GHOSTBUSTERS (2016, dir. Paul Feig)

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Left to right: Melissa McCarthy, Kate McKinnon, Kirsten Wiig and Leslie Jones, doing what makes them feel good: busting.

My young niece got into the original Ghostbusters when she was three, which is around the same age that I got into the movie. And way before this new movie was announced I had a phone conversation with her in which she asked me, “why aren’t there any girl Ghostbusters?” “I don’t know. That’s a fair question,” was my answer. Starting at that moment, I wanted there to be “girl Ghostbusters” for her sake.

So I was happy when a female-driven version of Ghostbusters became a reality just for the sheer principle of the thing. Even if the movie turned out to be subpar, I thought, my niece would be able to better identify in and participate with the same franchise that I engaged with as a boy. It could be an instance of both handing something off to a younger generation and feeling like there was a little more gender equality in the world.

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I’ve kept this in mind as the transparently sexist backlash against the movie’s existence has raged on in the hearts and minds of many online trolls. For almost every veiled or not-so-veiled misogynistic comment that has been flung at the movie that I’ve come across—and at this point “I’m not sexist it’s just that the trailer sucked” gets automatically translated into my mind as “I hate you, mom! I won’t stop playing with my Ghostbusters action figures and do my chores!”—I’ve thought about my niece and other girls like her getting their own version of a pop cultural phenomenon that has been virtually exclusive to boys/men. It turns out that, according to a profile article at Vulture, this is the reason why Paul Feig made the movie: “I wanted for little girls to be able to see themselves up on the screen,” he said.

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Feig (left) with original Ghostbusters director Ivan Reitman

Well now I’ve seen the new movie and I’m of two minds about it. It’s entertaining, looks great and the lead actresses are quite likable. But it lacks the original’s deadpan demeanor that counterbalanced its absurd premise; in place of dry humor is an earnestness from its four leads that can be charming but doesn’t ground any ridiculousness in an audience-friendly, “we’re well aware of how crazy this is” way. Also, the movie is so eager to get its heroines up-and-running that it foregoes steady, cumulative story development in order to get to some action-packed supernatural mayhem quicker.

But these things could be indicative of Feig’s main objective, which is to make the movie fun and empowering for girls. Is there anything empowering about dry, winking sarcasm? No, not really, so that was dropped. (Also, I think audiences unfairly have a lower tolerance for sarcastic women then for sarcastic men but that’s for a separate conversation.) And does a movie depend upon sensible plotting or story development to be fun for kids/girls? Again, not really. I certainly didn’t care or appreciate how the first half of the original Ghostbusters is about the vicissitudes of starting-up a business when I was a tot.

So the two issues I have with the movie ultimately seem to be in service of Feig’s goal to make the franchise inclusive for little girls like my niece, which ultimately moots my qualms. Sure, there are some ultra-convenient things that happen in the story, but dissecting those things takes a certain type of detail-sweating seriousness that feels inappropriate to a franchise that’s about people capturing and containing ghosts with nuclear accelerators on their back as if they were exterminators or animal control services. This has always been silly, fun stuff, and treating it as an unimpeachable sacred cow feels beside the point.

Now this isn’t to say that the movie doesn’t have any implicit politics in its subtext, which Matt Zoller Seitz has addressed better than I could. For example, SPOILERS there’s an interesting plot point where these female Ghostbuster receive a de facto, unsanctioned form of recognition whereas the original Ghostbusters got to become openly famous. This gums up the works of this new movie from a storytelling perspective—really, that would happen in this age of social media?– but it’s an interesting commentary on how women’s contributions to society often go unacknowledged while men get unabated credit. [1] END SPOILERS

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Yet back to the idea that this movie’s primary artistic purpose is to pass a franchise down to a younger, more gender-balanced audience: yes, there are a lot of callbacks to the original movies, and yes, one could cynically view the movie’s existence as another example of a Hollywood studio building/maintaining franchises for long-term profits but failing to foster more original ideas. But these things don’t really factor into how a kid thinks. They didn’t factor into my thinking when I was kid who once thrilled to Ghostbusters II, a movie that I now see as intrinsically flawed. (See my first footnote.) And, unless you’re an adamant, unflinching ultra-Conservative or Men’s Right’s Activist that I don’t agree with, the new movie isn’t ideologically egregious.

So my reaction to this new Ghostbusters is similar to my reaction to the most recent Star Wars: it’s not for me. But I don’t mean that in a dismissive, derogatory way; I mean that as a grown adult who enjoys media from any era but doesn’t really care to be personally nostalgic and wants younger people to feel like they have their own versions of things. I don’t need to relive my childhood ad nauseam like so many seem to have a protective need to do; I had mine and it was nice but it’s gone and that’s how it’s supposed to work.

What I’m interested in is talking to my niece about this new Ghostbusters. I hope she likes it, feels recognized and gets some inspiration from it.[2] That is what matters to me.

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[1] Then again, this plot development from a storytelling perspective isn’t even half as problematic as how the Ghostbusters became shunned between the original and its sequel despite the fact that they saved New York City and the world, which was done to setup a story that just rehashed the first movie’s. And by evidence of one moment that occurs at the end of this new movie, it seems that Feig is intent not to let that happen in another prospective Ghostbusters movie.

[2] Having said all that: I did feel a slight buzz from my past self as I watched Melissa McCarthy, Kirsten Wiig, Kate McKinnon and Leslie Jones wrangled ghosts with laser beams.

 

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