“Ghostbusters,” directed by Paul Feig, isn’t perfect; Kate McKinnon is.
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
In a world where ghosts projectile vomit green slime, possess people and mannequins, steal hearses, occupy Time Square and smash buildings from the inside out, there are only four people you’re gonna call: the Ghostbusters. Erin Gilbert (Kristen Wiig, “Saturday Night Live”) is a professor up for tenure. Abby Yates (Melissa McCarthy “Spy”) is a scientist studying paranormal activity in an institute that doesn’t recognize her department anymore. Once upon a time, they were best friends and told ghost stories that scared other kids away from inviting them to parties — parties that probably weren’t fun anyway. They wrote a book about the study of ghosts together, grew up and apart, and Gilbert moved on — until Yates put that book on Amazon.
Gilbert tracks Yates down to tell her to remove the book so it won’t jeopardize her career, and she meets Jillian Holtzmann (Kate McKinnon, “Saturday Night Live”), Yates’s research partner, in their laboratory. Despite her better judgment, Gilbert gets sucked into their work, and the three get caught up in a whirlwind of increasing paranormal activity in New York City after they see a ghost in a haunted house. They team up with Patty Tolan (Leslie Jones, “Saturday Night Live”) after she sees a ghost in the subway, and they become the most capable ghost-fighting team in the city. Okay, so they are the only ghost-fighting team in the city, but only because the mayor’s people are useless.
Their enemy, Rowan North (Neil Casey, “Inside Amy Schumer”), is a smart young guy who thinks he deserves to rule the city for reasons that largely point to how he was bullied when he was younger. He has plans involving using ghostly power to take over Manhattan. He’s also extremely boring.
The movie includes the phrase “face bidet,” Cecily Strong advising women against drawing attention to themselves in the workplace — while clearly gesturing to her body — and the best joke about testicular sensitivity that I have personally ever witnessed. Also, Kate McKinnon dances in what is basically her own musical number (and sings a line from “The Wizard of Oz” that couldn’t have been more perfectly placed — again, she is brilliant).
The mayor of New York City, aided by his assistant (Cecily Strong, “Saturday Night Live”), will accept their work and help, but tells them privately that, publically, he must assassinate their characters to avoid a city-wide panic. This may be the most subtle message of the whole film: women doing all the real work behind the scenes while being made out to be hysterical. The rest of the film is spattered with pointed lines — e.g., “ain’t no bitches gonna hunt no ghosts”— that mock the misogynistic internet storm of whiny meninist tantrums that preceded and followed the release of this movie.
The cast is limber and spirited; though the writing could’ve been tighter, the actors never drag. The four main women let their personal comedic styles run free, but McKinnon is undeniably the standout, stealing even scenes she knows she shouldn’t; you can see it in her eyes, which are perpetually full of mischief (a phrase that meant very little to me until I saw her in this movie). Chris Hemsworth (“Thor”) is charming and slyly self-aware as Kevin, the modelesque receptionist over which Kristen Wiig drools. He knows his point in the movie is to be the ditzy eye candy, and he delivers.
No, this reboot of “Ghostbusters” isn’t a cinematic masterpiece. In fact, there are several valid arguments for a lack of quality altogether. I’ve heard them. I’ve read them online. I’ve seen them hotly debated on public transportation since the film’s release.
But I’m almost tempted not to care. Young girls are finally going to have a shelf in Target with action figures that don’t have any male romantic counterparts, at all. That might not mean a lot to most people, but the effects — subtle as they may be — are there. And to be honest, of the bits of the original “Ghostbusters” that I did watch, it was pretty clear: it wasn’t that great to begin with.
However, even if this reboot were a turning point for women in comedic film (highly debatable), it’s still not perfect. Out of the four women, Jones is the only one who is Black. Out of the four women, her character is the only one that isn’t a scientist — she’s a public transit worker. For a film whose production team has been bracing itself for the onslaught of gender-based criticism — which didn’t disappoint — one would think they would have been more aware of the racial analysis that would follow it as well. Yet in addition to the underlying issues, Jones was forced to grapple with sickening internet vitriol, including pornographic, sexist and racist messages and pictures on Twitter hours after the film’s release.
I don’t want to receive death threats like Paul Feig or be the recipient of the kind of disgusting harassment Leslie Jones has had to deal with on Twitter, so I could never come right out and say women are funnier than men. I could never say that out loud. It would be wrong, to say that out loud. Very wrong.
And even if I wanted to say that, this isn’t the movie that I would use to prove it, like I hoped it would be. But it’s one that I would use as supporting evidence. Mostly because of Kate McKinnon.