Directed by Paul Feig
In March, the trailer for the remake of the 1984 comedy “Ghostbusters” debuted on YouTube to mixed reactions. A few months later, however, the reviews were less mixed—it became the most disliked movie trailer on YouTube, and the ninth most disliked video in the site’s history. But criticism started way before that, in January 2015, when director Paul Feig first announced an all-female “Ghostbusters” remake was in the works. There was pandemonium online. Some of the backlash was sexist, some was fueled by better intentions, but all of it was loud. I was right there, too. Not because of the cast’s gender (I saw “Frozen,” I know who runs the world (girls)), nor by a sense of nostalgia (my parents probably hadn’t even met in 1984), but because Feig and star Melissa McCarthy have been so consistently unfunny in the past. When they team up, we get movies like “Spy” and “The Heat” (which makes me twitch just to think of it, it’s so bad). So my expectations were historically low. But now, after a year of anticipation (mostly just to see if it could possibly be as bad as people thought it would be), I’ve finally seen it. If you thought that all this early backlash wouldn’t be addressed head-on (shooting took place in the summer of 2015, months after the announcement of the all-female cast), you’d be sorely mistaken. For a movie all about proving your worth and exceeding expectations, “Ghostbusters” did a pretty good job of shutting up some critics…including this one.
Professor Erin Gilbert (Kristen Wiig) is suddenly confronted with the ghosts of her past when a museum curator approaches her holding a book Gilbert co-wrote years ago about paranormal investigating. Now that she’s a respected scientist, she’s determined not to let her bosses find out she once believed in ghosts. But when she approaches her co-author and old friend Abby Yates (Melissa McCarthy) to ask her to stop selling their book, Gilbert is drawn back into the world she left behind. Abby and her research partner Jillian Holtzmann (Kate McKinnon) are on the verge of a breakthrough. They might be able to tame and capture spirits. Gilbert is skeptical, but she tags along to the haunted museum to check it out. What they find there is real and it’s troubling. But this is bigger than just one museum ghost—Rowan North (Neil Casey), a disaffected hotel employee/evil genius, is harnessing paranormal energy to release ghosts all over New York City. When an employee at the MTA, Patty Tolan (Leslie Jones) comes to the girls with another sighting, she and her expertise of the city are roped into joining. Now only the Ghostbusters can stop Rowan and save the city—but bureaucratic red tape and a thick glass ceiling stand in their way. Oh, and ghosts. A ton of ghosts.
Kristen Wiig was always going to be the bright spot in this cast. That was a given. One only needs to see “Whip It” or “Diary of a Teenage Girl” to know that Wiig isn’t like the rest of them. She doesn’t have to try so hard. She makes it look easy. McKinnon and Jones have little experience in film. “Saturday Night Live” was the catalyst for much of the original “Ghostbusters” cast, but success in improv doesn’t always translate to success in film. Here are two great examples. McKinnon seems to be trapped inside a buffoony character. She seems scared to be herself. Her reliance on silly accents works better in five minute skits than it does here. And Melissa McCarthy gives us a slightly tamer version of her usual goofy self. While she doesn’t offer anything new, she does back off the vulgar coldness she’s shown in movies like “The Boss,” “Identity Thief,” and the two I mentioned earlier. Here she’s restricted slightly by a PG-13 rating that only seems out-of-place a few times (Leslie Jones shouting “Forget this” while running down a subway tunnel is just not the same). I almost forgot to mention Chris Hemsworth, the only male cast member with more than a few minutes of screen time. Playing the Busters’ inexcusably dumb secretary Kevin, Hemsworth gets very close to ruining the movie—but ends up being just dumb enough to find hilarious. Is it true that all of the male characters in this female-led cast are either evil or incompetent—yes. Maybe it’s just evening the score.
I love nostalgia. Like I said, I was still nearly a decade from being born in 1984, and when I first watched the original “Ghostbusters” in high school I didn’t even enjoy it that much. The effects didn’t age well, and neither did some of the humor (if you disagree with that and you’re over 40 years old and “grew up on Ghostbusters,” you’re inherently biased and your opinion on the matter is irrelevant.) But I appreciate it when remakes and long-awaited sequels make nods to their forefathers. So to say that “Ghostbusters” did a lot to please fans of the old ones isn’t a criticism, in my opinion. But it’s not wrong, either. Cameos, both of actors and of characters, sneak their way into the plot, but in no way would I say “Ghostbusters” relies on them. It sticks to its story, and doesn’t beg for laughs so much. You’ll laugh, but thankfully, with the wonderful effects, bright colors, and engaging plot, you won’t need to hurt yourself busting a gut.
“Ghostbusters” will surely be a disappointment to a lot of people, but if you’re only judging by the trailer you may have set your expectations too low. The trailer makes it seem like “Ghostbusters” relies on vomit and queef jokes (of which there are an unfortunate few), but there’s more to it than that. Give it a shot.