I was surprised the other day to get a text from my sister telling me to see the new Ghostbusters movie. I’d heard mixed things from the media and was, I confess, deterred by accusations of mediocrity at best and vapidity at the worst. But we ventured down to the theater to give it a shot, and I’m rather glad we did. Though short of exceptional, the rebooted Ghostbusters excels in ways that pleasantly surprised me.
Let’s begin with the elephant in the room: the new ghostbusters are all women. Why this should be such a large subject of conversation–and concern for some– is a sad state of affairs exposing ongoing inequities between male and female portrayals in media. I read an article yesterday that pointed to the fact that only 22% of 2015 films had female protagonists, up from 12% in 2014, that women only have a third of the lines compared with male counterparts, and that women make up only 17% of crowd scenes. Given these stats, I bought my ticket to Ghostbusters nervously, concerned that either the women would appear weak or that a feminist agenda–as noble as it may be–would cause the story to suffer. Fortunately, the agenda was accomplished because the story allowed the women to simply be themselves: driven, funny, curious, and–for once–not obsessed with men or body image. I loved seeing four women acting without self-consciousness, without apology for either femininity or the lack of it, and without resorting to raunchiness, grotesque violence, or potty-humor. This latter point so often occurs with female-driven comedy (consider Spy and Bridesmaids), as if the comediennes weren’t capable of carrying the film by themselves and needed to mask, or compensate for, their femaleness with cheap and provocative stunts. Ghostbusters, praise be, proves women are people too, and does so without being annoying.
With the elephant out of the way, let’s look at the story. The reboot does a good job of paying homage to the original Ghostbusters films without copying them completely. I appreciated how the four new characters were just that: new characters. They did not line up one to one with the original four, but stood on their own and left me wanting to see more of them. Overall, the plot was engaging and, as others have said, while some of the jokes fall flat, the ones that hit hit home. I do have two criticisms though:
- One of the paradoxes of storytelling is that the best stories are often the ones where the most goes wrong. I watched Two Towers the other day and recall Samwise’s words: The best stories, the ones that really matter…sometimes you didn’t want to know the ending because how could it possibly be happy? Unfortunately for Ghostbusters, the conflict never grabbed my sympathies enough to fear for the characters. There was no, as film aficionados call it, a ‘dark night of the soul,’ where the characters face a deep temptation to quit in light of overwhelming obstacles. This dark night need not be complicated; I just wish there were a scene where the characters doubted themselves, or doubted their friendship, and had to make a choice to persevere. A better villain would have helped, too.
- One distinct advantage the original Ghostbusters has over the reboot is a backstory for the ghosts. The new movie fails to give motive for the ghosts’ destructive desires. It is easy to suspend disbelief as to the presence of ghosts, but they are characters too and need a reason to act. The new movie leans on the motives of the human villain, and sets up the ghosts as a mere consequence of disrupting a kind of paranormal infrastructure, similar to drilling on a fault line or blowing a fuse in an electrical grid. Could have used a bit more meat there.
Overall, Ghostbusters promises a good time and the satisfaction of seeing women at their best. At the very least, go to enjoy Melissa McCarthy’s quest for an appropriate ratio of dumplings, and Chris Hemsworth covering his eyes when there is a loud noise.