Answer the Call: Ghostbusters (2016)

There’s four new heroes in town.

I watched Ghostbusters this past weekend, making it a point to go see it on its opening weekend here in Germany. I’d been looking forward to it pretty much since the first announcements, and definitely since the first casting news. I watched and up-voted the first trailer everywhere I could, I followed the dudebro/misogynist and racist backlash against this movie as well as its actresses, particularly Leslie Jones, with increasing rage. However, I also read so many good things about it from delighted critics (mostly women) and bloggers, celebrating the many things this movie gets right. In short, I was really stoked to finally see it, make up my own mind, and quite frankly: goddamn enjoy myself for a change.

The setup: I haven’t seen the first two movies in over ten years and I frequently confuse plot points between the two, so I can’t really speak to any similarities in plot or story. I did ponder rewatching beforehand, but I realised one crucial thing: I don’t care. Because I had fun.

Ghostbusters (2016)

Not every movie or TV show or movie can be Orphan Black, the one show I’ve watched in recent years that consistently surprised me. This movie may not be a wholly original IP, and the confusion over whether to call it a remake, an adaptation, or simply an expansion of that universe may or may not be warranted, but it is an enjoyable continuation of a well-loved franchise, with a recognisable setup and lots of refreshing, new, and exciting content. I loved it for all the elements I did recognise and for all the new stuff, equally — I recognise that, generally, we should be aiming at telling new stories. Hell, I’m not thrilled with the MacGyver remake on TV, I really could do without the Prison Break revival, and goodness knows the new Heroes were kinda weird. BUT I’m really looking forward to Twin Peaks Season 3, and I loved seeing people jump for joy at getting new X-Files, even if maybe the series wasn’t that great, even if maybe the IP didn’t age well. For me, it’s come out to be a difference by degree, not category, because otherwise it would be hypocritical of me to condemn one studio for trying something like this and applauding another.

That said, yeah, I’d watch these four women in ANY movie or TV show together. But I also really, really enjoyed watching them be Ghostbusters.

There’s so many great things about this story, and I’m going to go with bullet points here because this is my blog and I can do what I want:

  • The protagonists are four single women, past the 30 and 40. And no-one cares. Not a single fuck was given, this day or any other day.
  • Despite the studio being huge bags of dicks, it has been confirmed that Holtzmann is gay.
  • These four women sit around after a long day and eat pizza without anyone remotely mentioning their weight or dieting. They wear comfortable, functional clothing AT ALL TIMES.
  • Patty and Abby are both plus-size, and it’s not a punchline. It’s not even mentioned. They are both so utterly comfortable in their own skin, same as Holtzmann and Erin.
  • Erin thinks Kevin is pretty, and the ensuing awkwardness and ribbing from the others is realistic and, well, there. But it doesn’t suddenly become the centre of her storyline, and nothing comes of it.
  • THERE IS NO FORCED ROMANCE. Instead, Holtzmann serenades Erin to the tunes of DeBarge’s Rhythm of the Night, and it’s perfect.
  • Female friendships. Women supporting one another and accepting each other’s passions, quirks, flaws, and skills for what they are. No cattiness, no drama. None of the usual tired tropes whenever there’s two women in a room together, anywhere in Hollywood. It’s like the real world, but with ghosts. No struggle for leadership or “being the alpha.” There’s always next time for one of them to say, “Let’s go,” before heading in to kick some ectoplasm butt.
  • Knowledgeable women — and not just Ivy League. Abby works at a less than prestigious college, but she goes where the work is. Erin does want to keep her tenure and navigate the shark-infested waters of Columbia University. Holtzmann would probably thrive anywhere as long as they let her work in peace. Patty works at the MTA, and Leslie Jones has been given grief for it — and, certainly, these are dangerous waters to navigate. The one black woman, but she’s not a scientist — but on the other hand, it’s so important to have not only scientists on that team, but a public servant, too. Many have written to Jones, thanking her for making people like them more visible. Workers in the service industries or in civil/public service are so often forgotten and dismissed, it’s important to give them an actual human face. The movie addresses people’s dickishness towards workers like Patty head-on, portraying her sunny disposition and showing her trying to connect with the people around her. This is where standalone narratives are constrained by their own limitations: not every movie or episode of a show can do everything. I mean, how often do we gripe over women not being this or being too much of that simply because they’re the ONLY women in a piece of media and having to satisfy way too may conflicting demands, however sensible, at once. This is why I loved Mad Max: Fury Road so much, after all. It had more than one female main character, and could therefore afford to have a vast cast of different personalities on board. In having only one woman of colour, Ghostbusters sees itself confronted with the same conundrum. In an effort of staying in my lane, I can’t speak to the stereotype-ishness of Patty’s humour or whether there were performative aspects to her character with any certainty, although I am trying to educate myself on the matter.
  • Four women being physically capable. Of anything. Wielding proton-powered weapons, carrying their own gear, handling malevolent apparitions the size of a skyscraper. And dodgy dancing, too. No matter their size, or shape.
  • Women being FUNNY. Genuinely, laugh-out-loud funny.
  • Kevin wants to be ONE OF THEM. He wants to be a Ghostbuster. Not out of jealousy, or because he wants to one-up them, or claiming he’d be better at it because he’s a man. He just wants to be a Ghostbuster, too. He wants to be awesome and save people, too. Bless.
  • Physical comedy, crude comedy, gunk jokes, junk jokes, gross punchlines. Women enjoy that kind of stuff, you know?

That stuff went everywhere, by the way. In every crack.

  • SHOOTING THE GIANT GHOST IN THE DICK. Is that immature? Yes. Does it make women the world over feel better? YES!
  • Subverting the dumb blonde trope into the dumb blond trope. Kevin, light of my life, you are a goddamn dolt, and we love you. The flying beefcake is useless, and it’s brilliant. Also, they had Chris Hemsworth dancing for the during-credits sequences for DAYS, didn’t they? That man is really light on his feet.
  • Female mentorship. Sigourney Weaver was a delight. There are no brothers, no fathers, no male mentors who “taught [them] everything [they] know.” There are ladies for that kind of stuff.
  • The villain is a straight white dude incapable of handling rejection. His villainy is neither excused nor forgiven (although the reference/sociopathy to mental illness was unfortunate, once again). Yes, he should have been helped throughout his life, because no-one deserves to be bullied. It was also within his power and agency to seek that help. To quote Jake Peralta of the 99th precinct: Cool motive. Still murder. And if anyone ever tries to mansplain him to me, I’m getting my ghost wood chipper.
  • The Battle of Times Square is so epic. Holtzmann kicking ass with her new toys was among the most satisfying 30 seconds of my LIFE. I think we really needed to see this: a woman wading into battle with her teeth bared, we needed to see the “destroyer” be a woman. We needed the Cool Guy Who Doesn’t Look At Explosions to be a lady.

Jillian Holtzmann, I love you.

  • Erin jumping after Abby without a second thought, redeeming herself for leaving Abby before not in Abby’s eyes, but in her own.
  • Abby and Erin’s history not causing any friction beyond the very well-judged scene in the beginning. Yup, they have history, yup, it didn’t go well. Abby shouldn’t have published the book without Erin’s consent, but Erin did ditch her and years of hard work for “real” science. Within minutes of narrating time, they’ve moved past that. Erin’s anger is based on her reputation and her professional pride, Abby’s anger is based in feeling hurt and the loss of her best friend – and none of that matters after both of them realise that they have just actually, really, seriously seen a ghost. Erin is fired from her position after the video ends up online, but she doesn’t blame Abby or Holtzmann for that. It is simply a Thing That Happens, and Erin is nothing if not resourceful.
  • The sheer bravery of Patty Tolan – she thought she was joining a book club. Turns out, nope, not a book club, but there’s creepy shit going down and people to save who need her knowledge of New York, so she is in, and staying.
  • Holtzmann is WEIRD. I love her. I, too, can think of seven good uses for a cadaver TODAY; and Holtzmann is the brilliant, driven, capable engineer that we need. And, indeed, the one we deserve. Kate McKinnon imbues her with such a wonderful energy and screen presence… ugh, so good.
  • All four of them are. The narrative affords its main cast to embody different personality types and motivations, but that doesn’t mean that it forces each of them to stick to one character trait, as so often happens when writers can’t handle more than one woman at a time (cough, Sleepy Hollow, cough). Each of them are multi-faceted and REAL.
  • Great and surprising guest performances – Charles Dance as the dean of Erin’s college and Andy Garcia as Useless NY Mayor respectively were, in a word, fantastic (I had no idea they were in it). Dan Aykroyd, Ernie Hudson, and Bill Murray’s cameos were cute, too.

As such, in essence, my response to people telling me they didn’t like the movie because it wasn’t as funny as the original, or because they didn’t see the need for a genderswap remake, or because they feel like it ruined their childhoods, is this: I am not remotely interested in whether you like it.

It may not be an original IP, but telling this kind of story is entirely and absolutely necessary; and, in my eyes, entirely worthwhile as long as it’s entertaining.

Ghostbusters -- the new gear.

Oh, and one more thing: Safety lights are for dudes.

Because anyone who doesn’t understand that this kind of story, that this kind of subversion of tropes isn’t sexist against men probably needs that safety light on to make sure they’re still breathing. This movie doesn’t treat men badly, certainly nowhere near as badly as women in fiction have been treated for centuries before. The only “bad treatment” they’re getting is not being the centre of anybody’s universe. It is, in the case of the dumb blond(e) “male lead,” getting a small(!) taste of their own medicine, experiencing a work of fiction as we so often do. It is, in making the villain who he is, the frontier pushing back. It is women proving wrong the haters. That’s not sexism. That’s reality, for as long as we don’t live in some Utopia where gender inequality and misogyny are dead and gone.

I have empathised and identified with male protagonists in lieu of suitable female characters, in lieu of HEROINES who looked like me and felt like me, for over two decades now. If men cannot handle feeling that same empathy, that is not my problem. And to all those who REFUSE to do so without even trying: this movie was not made for you. Get over it.

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