Let’s open with a matter-of-fact statement: what I’m about to write is a minority opinion. This much I’ve pretty much gathered from the slew of bad word of mouth the gender-swapped reboot of Ghostbusters has been getting. Whilst in moderation the critical reviews across the world haven’t been dire (excluding our very eloquent original by Rory), but generally audience feedback is not good—apart from the screening I was in, and my own reaction.
To call Paul Feig’s re-telling of colourful, paranormal-busting scientists controversial would be a deep understatement. Ghostbusters is marred by the most disliked YouTube trailer in history, being another rebooted classic added to a hardly prestigious list, and a general lack of clarity over exactly why this needed to happen.
The honest answer after watching the film is that it does not need to exist at all. Criticisms first: apart from updated visual effects which look glossy and pretty, a fleshed-out role for the team’s secretary, and the change of crew, Feig’s film brings nothing to the table that the 80’s original did not already. The plot arc is a practical mirror image, and, in places, the somewhat sinister elements of the original—the whole possession that was rather hardline for Louis Tully (Rick Moranis) in the original—is toned down, most likely to bring in a more universal audience and not upset them. On paper, and certainly by how badly the trailers have marketed it, this felt like a disastrous flop from the get go.
But I laughed.
And then I laughed again. And they kept coming, and before I knew it the film had gone by and there wasn’t anything that remotely offended or annoyed me. Granted, the cast, director and co-writer are not for all tastes. No comedian is. But for me the crew seemed to just work. Nothing felt forced about the cracks and whips they made with each other; I had the sense that they were enjoying each other’s company, improvising a great deal but then ensuring things didn’t get completely out of hand or go too far into mind-numbing, banterous repetition.
I’m a fan of Paul Feig, Melissa McCarthy, and Kristen Wiig, and after several dreadful entries into McCarthy’s filmography, like Tammy and The Boss, coming away from this it’s clear that her talents are better served in Feig’s hands. His writing seems to get her; he knows what not to do and what’s best to apply to her characters. With Leslie Jones and Kate McKinnon’s know-how, down-with-the-kids community girl and nerdy, often inappropriate inventor, things can be a touch hit-and-miss. Some of the attempted jokes fall flat. Not one audible laugh came out of anyone’s mouths after a certain shrieky comment from Jones or another “oh hell no”, or a reference to genitalia by McKinnon which begs the question of why it is in a PG-13 film.
Those missteps are overshadowed by the warmth and genuine jokes that come in between. Nothing feels cynical about the production or the writing. Feig and his co-writer Katie Dippold may sometimes dip into uneasy stereotype territory, but it’s quickly repaired. This brings another matter that has attracted some attention, being Chris Hemsworth’s ‘dumber than dumb’ secretary Kevin Beckman. For me, Hemsworth stole the show, the whole role a chance for him to let loose his self-deprecation. His gags include his cat having a funny name, prodding a fish tank, having no glass in his glasses, and his struggles to answer a phone. It’s simple, basic slapstick that for any other role or film would seem childish, but it works every time. It’s so dumb that it’s brilliant. Granted, it may grate on some people, but then we just revert back to the fact that not every comedian or comedic act is for everyone.
From the very announcement that Ghostbusters was going to be touched again, the film was in many ways doomed to negative reactions from all avenues. The trailers certainly have not done the film any favours. They were confusing, messy, missed out a lot of the warmth in the film, and threw in the vibe of, “They’re female now, and it’s happening, get over it”. The truth is that that card is never really played in the film. There are jabs at certain characters who happen to be male, but the beauty of Ghostbusters is they could have been played by anyone of any gender. The banter and interplay in the old version and new version is not gender specific, and while the new version is decidedly, “females are good guys and males are the bad guys,” there really is no political undercurrent. I am normally on the side of not having double standards against either gender, but if anyone takes the jokes made in this film as prejudice against men or women, they’re taking it too seriously.
The reboot for me was warm, fun, light-hearted, and pleasantly surprising. Yes, there is no urgency in its direction, the plot is a replica, it didn’t need a gender swap or even a bog-standard reboot, and no doubt if sequels follow for extra cash-grab opportunities then it may stain the name further. But on this occasion, I found myself thoroughly unoffended by the re-tread. In fact, I was joyfully entertained.
If you don’t like the look of it, then don’t see it. If you saw it and absolutely hated it, then that is great. Diversity of opinion is stimulating. Just see it for yourself and then trash it or rave about it as much as you want. I’m just writing to say that at least one screening of general audience members found this film rather amusing and walked out with a smile, bopping along to the classic “Who ya gonna call?” tune.
(Read Rory Mellon’s Ghostbusters review: here.)