Today I’m going to do something a little different. You may have noticed in the past that if I write a movie review, it’ll end up being a few weeks after I saw the movie itself. I like to think that this is because it’s giving me time to ruminate on a subject, but reality is that I have so much content planned out for the blog, that slipping in a movie review the day after (or week after) I see it would bump other things from the schedule. Stuff that I should definitely get to eventually. But today’s movie review is about a not-so-little film that requires some discussion. That movie is Ghostbusters.
As soon as it was announced that the beloved 80s franchise was being rebooted with an all-female team, the whiny boys of the internet began their song. “It’s not legit anymore!” “They’re not as funny as the original guys!” And those would be the tame comments. Things have only gotten worse in the time since the movie came out, with one of the stars of the movie – Leslie Jones – being bullied off twitter because she dared to costar in a previously-all-male franchise and didn’t fail. The trolls who drove her away were hateful and racist, and their organizer has been banned for life from twitter, but why is this all happening? Why do these dudes get their panties in a twist over ladies driving the ECTO 1, and what are the things we can do to combat the ridiculousness that a female-driven comedy seems to elicit from the baser parts of the internet…and humanity.
Before we get too deep into any of the serious stuff, I will say I liked the movie a lot. It’s got problems, certainly, but not any that other comedies don’t have. My entire time in the theater (with my dad) was a joy – we had fun from beginning to end, and it was a packed theater with everyone laughing loudly and enjoying themselves. This is what a summer action-comedy is supposed to be like, and I had such a terrific time. That alone should be a good enough reason to see it.
I see quite a few reviews that have problems with Leslie Jones’ Patty being portrayed as the “working class” member of the team who joins up and isn’t quite on the same level as the rest of the scientists. While watching the movie, I saw her depth and breadth of knowledge about the history of New York City to be quite impressive, and filling a niche that the team had, and while she may be working class, she’s no slouch – having read extensively enough to spout off facts about architecture, history, and more. Without her, they wouldn’t have as much background information about the whys and wherefores of the ghosts and locations they were confronting. Like the role that scientists play in so many action movies, Patty as historian was able to inform the Ghostbusters about the terrors that they might soon be facing.
So…onto the harder stuff. So many reviews out there are saying the same thing, and that is that a female-driven comedy has to work twice as hard (if not harder) than those starring men to be seen as a “success”, and why making sure that movies like Ghostbusters (that is, with diverse female casts) get made. Here’s a smattering of what the press has to say (and these are only the ones that came across my immediate reading – I did not seek out these articles. They’re EVERYWHERE.
“When a big-budget movie starring men does poorly, it’s just another dud. When one … starring women doesn’t live up to the hype, it becomes a referendum.” – LA Times
“It’s unfair that women have to be put through litmus tests all the time. What if ‘Ghostbusters’ doesn’t work?” Feig said. “If a giant tent pole starring men doesn’t do well, people don’t go ‘oh well, we can’t have guys in movies anymore.’” – Washington Times
“There is a tremendous amount of undue pressure put on comedies that star women to be masterpieces. In a better world, there would be plenty of comedies starring women, some great, some forgettable, and it wouldn’t be a big deal.” – Feminist Frequency
So – what to make of all this? I decided to talk to my friend Heather, who is an aspiring screenwriter with one feature-length screenplay under her belt, two more in the works, and a number of shorts, including two for DC’s 48-Hour Film Project (which gave her just 5 hours to write!). We chatted over email, and here is a condensed version of what she had to say.
(Maggie) Last week when I posted the link of my review of Finding Dory to twitter, you encouraged me to go see Ghostbusters. Why was that?
(Heather) I had just seen Ghostbusters myself and had a great time, so I recommend everyone go see it. But I also feel it’s important to show all of the misogynistic internet trolls that, no matter how loud they get, they can’t make a difference. I think it’s a fantastic movie for young girls to see. These are confident, smart, courageous women kicking some ass. They are a moderately diverse bunch, and they don’t need to wear any form-fitting outfits to impress anyone. What most people don’t realize is how vital it is to see movies you like on opening weekend. Those opening weekend box office numbers are what studio executives look at when they greenlight future projects. It’s especially important to have a big opening if the movie is hoping to be the start of a franchise, as I’m sure Ghostbusters would like to be. So, if you want to see more of the kind of movies you like get made, make sure you see them on opening weekend. If you have to wait, only wait until the second weekend.
(M) What kind of effect do you think switching the main characters genders had in this reboot as opposed to the many others that make their way into theaters that sometimes feel like the old story played with different actors?
(H) Well, it is important to understand the difference between a reboot and a remake. As a reboot, Feig and his co-writer, Katie Dippold, had a lot of freedom. In this case, I don’t think the gender switch affected much of anything. Other than three scientists and a layperson, I don’t think the characters really lined up one-for-one with the original cast. So, these women were able to make them their own. There are real differences between women and men. Sometimes the story will direct the writer to use some aspect of the character’s gender to further the plot. But in many stories, those differences have no reason to come out. Ghostbusters is an example where a lesser writer would have thrown in jokes or throw-away lines to point out – HEY! THESE ARE WOMEN! But Feig and Dippold knew they had a responsibility to let the characters and the story do the work. John August’s advice for one way to deal with writer’s block is to switch the character’s gender and see if it opens up any new ideas. It can be a pretty fun exercise.
(M) I remember hearing after Bridesmaids did so well that it would start the tide of female-driven comedies, but every time there’s a big one coming up, it’s discussed in the news as “will this be the one to get Hollywood green-lighting more female-oriented films?” What do you think it will take to actually have that happen? Is it possible the way the studios are currently run?
(H) The first thing that has to happen is these movies have to get written. Another thing studios can do is look at whether a role written for a man really needs to be a man. Often, it’s not that difficult to re-imagine a movie with a female lead. I’ve read that Ripley was written as a man until they decided to cast Sigourney Weaver. Angelina Jolie got the lead in Salt because Tom Cruise was busy. Recently, Sandra Bullock played a character based on James Carville, of all people.
Studios have traditionally viewed the superhero genre as being for guys. But they’ve come to their senses. On the horizon, we see standalone movies for Black Widow, Captain Marvel, and Harley Quinn. Nicole Perlman proved that women can write superhero movies, too, when Guardians of the Galaxy became a massive hit. That’s why they’ve entrusted her with Captain Marvel.
I actually think there is a lot of effort underway in Hollywood right now to be more gender- and color-blind in casting. Social media has played a big role. After #oscarssowhite, the Academy made a concerted effort to increase diversity when selecting new members. It will take a little while for all of this to trickle down and show up in the theater, but, for now, I give Hollywood credit for working on it.
(M) On a lighter note – what are some of your favorite movies that you would recommend?
(H) I tend to see more mainstream comedies and superhero movies. I’m a huge fan of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but I don’t care much about the DC movies. So, my recommendations would really line up with what’s been popular at the box office.
That said, living in Austin for the past year has afforded me the opportunity to broaden my horizons into more indie films. I got to see a ton of films during SXSW. Also, Alamo Drafthouse works so hard to program these amazing films and events. Most people won’t have the opportunity to see a lot of these in the theater, so I take advantage of my geographic luck. If there is an Alamo Drafthouse near you (I know there is one in Ashburn, VA), stay on top of their calendar, because they do such an amazing job.
Big box office movies aside, these are some smaller movies I saw this year and really enjoyed. You can probably find most of them on iTunes.
- The Invitation – Hitchcockian psychological thriller
- Hello, My Name is Doris – Sally Field in a late-life coming of age story
- The Lobster – hard to describe this one, absurdist comedy about relationships
- Don’t Think Twice – what happens when one member of an improv group gets famous
- My Blind Brother – love triangle between a messed-up girl, a blind jerk, and his self-sacrificing brother
- Shovel Buddies – teenagers spend a night trying to fulfill their friend’s last wish after he died from cancer
- I Am a Hero – a Japanese (English subtitled) zombie comedy that actually manages to put a fresh twist on the zombie genre
Thanks to Heather for agreeing to my little interview – maybe something I’ll try doing again in the future when it feels right. In the meantime, I loved Ghostbusters, and I don’t think you’d be disappointed if you saw it. Get out there and support a great movie while it still counts!
Follow Heather on twitter at @jollywandering