'Ghostbusters' Flips Script, But Doesn't Change It

By Abby Olcese 7-18-2016
Image via "Ghostbusters" Facebook.

From the moment it was announced, everyone on the internet voiced an opinion of the all-female Ghostbusters remake. Legions of fanboys complained the film would ruin their adoration of the 1984 original. Others leapt to its defense, excited that a strong team of women performers would get a chance to school the naysayers.

But while it’s wonderful to see women as the heroes of an action movie — playing roles they aren’t typically offered — that’s not the only thing required to make Ghostbusters a success. It also has to be good.

Unfortunately, the film squanders the talents of its cast on a poor script that’s bogged down with poor jokes, underdeveloped characters, and a juvenile approach to feminism that doesn’t advance the conversation.

In the new Ghostbusters, uptight scientist Erin Gilbert (Kristen Wiig) has difficulties advancing professionally because of a book on ghosts she co-wrote with one-time friend Abby Yates (Melissa McCarthy). After Erin is approached by a historical site caretaker for help de-haunting a mansion, Erin, Abby and Abby’s assistant Jillian Holtzmann (Kate McKinnon) start up a ghost-busting business, where they’re joined by transit employee Patty Tolan (Leslie Jones) and pretty-boy secretary Kevin (Chris Hemsworth). The group’s business drastically increases thanks to a nutcase loner intent on causing an apocalypse (Neil Casey, acting as a clear stand-in for internet trolls).

One of the original film’s strengths was its distinct, fully-formed personalities of its characters, as was getting to watch those personalities bounce off each other. And that was what made the idea of an all-female remake so intriguing, particularly since McCarthy, Wiig, Jones and McKinnon are all superb comedians.

Unfortunately, the characters of the remake are underwritten, and their personalities are more like individual collections of quirks. Wiig is uptight for reasons we never fully understand. The underutilized McKinnon is simply weird for the sake of being weird, sometimes literally dancing around in the back of the frame in search of something to do. Jones’ Patty Tolan is more down-to-earth, but still behaves in ways that don’t quite make sense.

Ghostbusters ’ approach to feminism is likewise disappointing, in part because of the poorly-mined relationships between its leads, but also because writer-director Paul Feig and co-writer Katie Dippold mistake stereotype-flipping for empowerment.

Chris Hemsworth’s Kevin, for example, has no redeeming qualities except his good looks, sending up both the actor’s strong-man image and the dumb blonde eye-candy trope.

This is a clever idea in theory, but it’s still objectification, and unnecessary at that. While flipping the script might seem like a clever way to call attention to this particular brand of sexism, it doesn’t encourage constructive discussion, only conflict. It’s also definitely not the compassionate approach we’re supposed to consider as viewers of faith.

All this might sound like harsh criticism for a film that’s meant to be light and fun. But a movie that’s trying to improve the overwhelming white-straight-maleness of films (particularly one this high-profile) requires some extra thoughtfulness in its making. Shutting down misogynists and trolls just by teasing them isn’t going to get the job done. Ghostbusters has to prove its worth by being objectively better than the haters, both in terms of quality and attitude. Unfortunately, it doesn’t get there on either score.

Abby Olcese is a freelance film critic and writer based in Kansas. You can find her on Twitter @indieabby88.

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