OK, Lerlines, I did it: I packed up the 7- and 5-year-old daughters, the husband, and we checked out the new Ghostbusters film.
Let’s get this out of the way first: I’m a scholar of the first movie. It came out when I was 9, and I still watch it two or three times a year. I have video of my three-year-old lying on the floor, having been “slimed,” and asking the Ghostbusters to save her. I know that Louis Tully has been an accountant for four years, I know about that time many Shubs and Zuuls were roasted in the depths of the Slor, and I know that when Ray gets a fellated by a ghost, he’s wearing epaulets.
OK, that’s done.
I really, really wanted to like Ghostbusters 2016. I’ve been terrified it would be a gross disappointment: even worse than the trailers suggested (those trailers were not good), and that all the angry, pouting guys at home whose childhoods were ruined by the suggestion of a new Ghostbusters film would end up being right, and would walk away thinking, “See? Girls ruin everything.”
Last night, after leaving the theater? I was grinning from ear to ear, and didn’t stop smiling for at least three hours, most of which were spent in my kitchen, discussing the movie with my husband (who also really enjoyed it). My seven-year-old spent half of the movie with her face buried in my lap–it was a lot scarier than the first one–and my five-year-old spent most of the time staring, wide-eyed and beaming, at the screen.
I’m not going to get into the details of the movie, with spoilers and whatnot; Emily Asher-Perrin’s review of the movie is quite good, and captures a lot of what I liked about it. So I encourage you to head over to Tor.com and read it, if you want a more traditional movie review. She’s spot-on with what works and what doesn’t, how the world-building is fantastic in this one, and how brilliantly the characters work.
A few of my own thoughts: I saw that one reviewer complained that the first joke was about a queef, and this puzzled me, because there were a lot of jokes before getting to that one-and-only fart joke. Zach Woods is the first person we see on screen, and he’s one of those actors whose very presence has me bracing for hilarity. Granted, he doesn’t tell jokes. He does what he does best: he softly, and with great delight and curiosity, delivers information like a quietly psychotic children’s librarian. So, no. Queef is not the first joke. Unless, of course, your definition of a joke is “Wait for it… deliver… pause for laughs.”
In which case, this movie is not for you.
Generally speaking, it takes some time to get off the dime. After that first terrific scene, we get Erin’s (Kristen Wiig) backstory. Then she reunites with her old friend, and we get some nice character-building. About 20 minutes in, I got worried. Aside from a few laughs, I hadn’t burst out laughing yet. Is this not going to be funny? I thought. But then I resolved to set that aside, because, hilarious or not, I was really enjoying the movie.
I can love this movie without it being the funniest thing I’ve ever seen.
And it is funny. I was dying to see Kristen Wiig be as hilarious as I know she is, but many scenes had me and the entire audience cracking up. They balanced the humor with great special effects, scary ghosts, suspense, and a central villain who was, essentially, the embodiment of of all those angry, pouting guys at home.
Women Being Women
In discussing the movie with my husband, I kept coming back to several very sweet, poignant moments where the women were just having fun. Dancing, singing, ribbing each other, squealing and jumping up and down. And I mentioned to him that this movie had a much greater focus on their mutual friendship than the first one did.
“That’s not true,” he said. “The first movie had a lot about their friendship.”
“Really? I mean, you knew they were friends, but…”
“The scene where they’re eating the Chinese food! And….” he named a few more.
“Oh. I guess so. But it didn’t really affect me like this one did.”
“Well, of course it didn’t. Because they weren’t women.”
Then he gave me a duh look. Because duh.
He saw all the subtleties of male friendship in the first movie, and appreciated that on a deeper level than I ever did. I can recite Ghostbusters from start to finish (and have), but now I understand that he gets it on a deeper level: they’re guys being best friends in the ways that guys are best friends, and I’ve never had that experience.
And there you have it, folks: the reason representation matters. The women in this movie are women acting like women. They’re not women kicking ass in characters that could be male; these kick-ass characters are unapologetically female.
When they first see a ghost, Abby can’t stop talking about how beautiful she is. Erin can’t stop jumping up and down, chanting, “WESAWAGHOST! WESAWAGHOST!” That is exactly what I would do in that situation. The men in the first Ghostbusters were excited (and terrified) but they didn’t jump up and down, clapping their hands. Because generally, guys don’t do that.
Women do. And these women are women, through and through. They’re also brilliant scientists and clever historians and brave and funny, and they love each other, and they make each other laugh, and they show each other affection openly. They have the same friendship I have with my friends. And now I’m getting choked up.
If you don’t like movies that are, at their core, about female friendships, this movie is not for you.
It’s Not Ghostbusters. It’s Annie.
After we put the girls to bed, I turned on the original Ghostbusters. Ten minutes in, I remembered what I’d always known about Ghostbusters: it’s a near-perfect film comedy. Every moment is in the service of pace and humor; it doesn’t bother with world-building or explaining much about the back stories; fuck all that, it says to us, get on the goddamn train and ride this bitch all the way downtown.
Ghostbusters 2016 isn’t like that. It takes its time. I look forward to rewatching it. Many times.
Some of the haters have complained that the new movie isn’t canon. And I love canon as much as any nerd, but from the start, I accepted that this is a different movie. Same high concept, same premise, same city–different people, different story, different world. In a nutshell, the parallel to this movie is not Star Trek, where they invented an entirely new timeline just to say it’s canon.
The comparison is the new Annie.
When I saw ads for the new Annie, I had a “don’t ruin my childhood” reaction, I’ll admit. But then I saw Quvenzhané Wallace’s gorgeous smile and thought: my girls deserve to get their own Annie. I had Aileen Quinn and the traditional Annie, and I loved that movie. But now my girls have their own Annie–one that’s relevant to them, who looks like their friends, who lives in the here and now. They have new songs and Daddy Stacks instead of Warbucks, and they live in a smart penthouse instead of a mansion, and they have a foster mother instead of an orphanage headmistress, and it’s all theirs.
I didn’t love all the updates: There is one Miss Hannigan, and that is Carol Burnett. That said, it’s just as sweet and catchy as the original, and it resonates for my daughters. I can still love the original, and like the new one, and know that the new one is important.
Semi-Spoiler Alert: Fuck the Haters
In the end, the original Ghostbusters was about having a rollicking good time on the world’s greatest high-speed comedy rail ever run, and Ghostbusters 2016 is a terrific SFF comedy with a fantastic message, subtly delivered by the people who should deliver it.
That message is: fuck the haters, and do your thing.
A deep thread of gaslighting runs through the movie. As a child, Erin is visited by a ghost every night for a year, and her parents don’t believe her. In fact, no one believes her, until she befriends Abby. She knows the truth, because it’s happened to her, over and over again. But because the people around her haven’t experienced her life, they disbelieve her outright.
When the mayor’s character comes aboard (portrayed vacantly and hilariously by Andy Garcia), the denial goes big: well, sure, we believe you. But to do something about it would be politically difficult, so instead, we’re going to publicly discredit and humiliate you.
Erin spends much of the movie trying to preserve her reputation; she doesn’t want anyone to make fun of her. She doesn’t want to be “Ghost Girl,” the object of ridicule; she wants to be well-liked and get tenure. So she decides to deny her own truth because she’s tired of defending herself.
When Erin finally faces a grumpy old man debunker, the embodiment of all the people who have told her she’s crazy, she makes a terrible error in trying to gain his approval. In trying to appease him, she causes more pain.
The other three women? They’ve got it right: Fuck those guys. “We know we’re right. We saw a ghost and we know we’re right. Who CARES whether he thinks we’re lying and hysterical? We know we’re right.”
When they’re facing down the villain, he complains that the world has been so cruel to him: people made fun of him, they’ve been mean to him, they never appreciated his work!
In response, we see the sad, kind faces of the Ghostbusters.
“We’ve been there, too,” they say.
In that moment, the importance of this movie comes into high relief: this guy wants to destroy the world because he feels threatened and unappreciated. These women, who have also lived threatened, underappreciated lives, know that it’s more important to save the world than to give in to the haters.
I don’t know of a better message for 2016 than that.