Monday, July 18, 2016

GHOSTBUSTERS: conflict of interests

I've followed all the hate and all the "ruining my childhood" BS about the new GHOSTBUSTERS movie since the female-led movie was announced and steadily decried those people (mostly white men in my age range) as ignorant neanderthals.

I still think they wrong and their hate was misplaced, but I was quite sad to see a film that went beyond acknowledging that hate to nearly validating it.

Let me be clear: I had a good time at GHOSTBUSTERS and enjoyed many aspects of it. But there are problems.

My heart WANTS it to be a great film, but my head just won't allow it.

Here's why:


Good job going for the full gender swap and letting the new team hire a male receptionist. Unfortunately, Chris Hemsworth character is played as a slab of moronic eye candy. He spends most of his early screen time unable to work the phones. This is a major point of contention for me. They didn't have to make him dumb to make the women look smart. They were meant to be smart on their own. Three of them are accomplished scientists and the fourth is a walking encyclopedia of New York City history. You know what would have made the women look as smart as they should have been? Playing them off of an equally intelligent male counterpart (more on the "genius" of the villain later). Instead, they banter with Kevin and his vapid one-liners.


Speaking of those one-liners... GHOSTBUSTERS is funny, and that's actually another problem. Watching the movie, I can see the improv and the effort that went into getting the funniest lines the cast could whip out. Unfortunately, those jokes became so far separated from the story that they didn't matter. It was more like watching a film full of outtakes. WARNING: Comparison to original ahead...

In the 1984 film, the jokes were about the story and moved the plot forward. Here, the jokes do nothing to enhance the story and that's a major pitfall. Most of the jokes don't do much to develop characters in positive ways, either.

For example: Holtzmann (Kate McKinnion) does a humorous and slightly suggestive lip-sync/dance to DeBarge's 1985 "Rhythm of the Night." The song is perfect as its inclusion serves as a nod to the time period of the original and does reflect the story in subtle ways. At the end, Abby Yates (Melissa McCarthy) makes a joke about "DeBarging" in and Holtzmann replies that she thought the song was by Devo. First of all, the song is obviously not Devo, so Holtzmann's reply makes her seems stupid and out of touch. Yates's joke is funny, particularly because she isn't the one Holtzmann is dancing for during the scene, but it is also a joke that anyone who legitimately didn't know who sang the song wouldn't get. In other words: probably most of the audience.

There's another joke that also misses the point (you can see it in the trailer, so no spoilers). During a scene at a concert, Yates stage dives into a crowd and is carried a good distance. Patty (Leslie Jones ... who I just realized is the least often referenced by her last name, so much that I don't remember it) takes the dive, too, and falls flat on her back. She says, "I don't know if it's a race thing or a woman thing, but I'm pissed." taken on its own, that might have been funny. But moments before, we saw Yates dive without a hitch. So while there is plenty of sexism (next topic) this one is definitely a race thing.


This is not a rant about how horrible it is that this movie was made with female leads. As I mentioned, I think that's great and these four women are amazing. But the message got lost. My wife said it best: In the original, the city took the Ghostbusters at face value and they never had to defend themselves as scientists. In this, however, Yates and even more so Erin Gilbert (Kristen Wiig) are constantly defending themselves as scientists, against being called frauds, and as women. The four are regularly lambasted for doing their job. The get no public support during the course of the film's plot and are subjected to ridicule wherever they go. Gilbert loses her job at Columbia University (a cool nod to the original), Yates and Holtzmann are tossed out of their (much less prestigious) institution, and while not as explicit, Patty loses her job with MTA over her involvement with the Ghostbusters.

But the sexism is deeper and more damaging than even that. Once Kevin arrives on scene, Gilbert (esteemed scientist who was up for tenure at Columbia) turns into a mess as she fawns over the new receptionist. Yates often comments about the sexual harassment going on, but it's never a big deal. Because we're supposed to accept that a brilliant scientist, who happens to be female, would lose her self-control over a dim-witted beefcake. It hurts her character more than helps it. It makes her look stupid and goes a long way to destroying her credibility. I get that Gilbert has often been on her own and not part of larger social circles. But Kevin probably isn't the first hunky guy she's ever been in proximity to but from what we see on the screen, he might as well be.


I don't buy it. Yes, we are given one reason why this Rowan guy could plan and accomplish what he does, but I don't buy it. He builds things similar to what Holtzmann creates for the team without any engineering background that we are told of. He just somehow managed to build ghost-summoning and enhancing gear in a basement. It's a perfect fit, really. Why give women we aren't meant to take seriously a serious villain to confront and overcome?

BILL MURRAY (SPOILER. Sorry, it has to be done.)

If you get two scenes, it's not a cameo any more. Murray's ghost-debunking character is lame and adds nothing of value to the film. Seeing him twice made me feel like he wouldn't do the movie if he didn't get more screen time. Yes, Venkman is the lead in the two 1980s films, but hey guess what Bill Murray? THOSE WEREN'T YOUR MOVIES! You don't own them, you didn't create them, you didn't write or direct them. Get over yourself and stop acting like an egotistical asshat.

Even with all of that, I still enjoyed the movie. I saw it in 3D and it was amazing. The ghosts look great (even if the physics of them is inconsistent), McKinnon and Jones are delightful and badass, and most of the cameos and nods to the original are fun. (There's even one point that references INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS, so that's cool). I'd see it again and will support a sequel. I just don't think this is the film we (I) had hoped it would be.

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