What do you say about a film that inspired almost a million YouTube users, many of the masculine variety, to give thumbs down? I’m sure scores of women felt like me and it got their dander up. This weekend director Paul Feig’s gal-fronted reboot of Ghostbusters is releasing across the country and, fingers crossed, will bring out female fans in droves, in support of women in film, and not least to smack down and dissuade the kind of girl-bashing behavior so pervasive online prerelease . But is it any good?
The short answer is it’s good enough to enjoy, but not as great as representing total vindication. There are certainly moments that shine so brightly the entire audience glows like, say, Slimer. In particular, Kate McKinnon’s character Jillian Holtzmann, and Leslie Jones as Patty Tolan are wonderful, and without question, raising their stock to A-listers. Chris Hemworth makes himself nearly intolerable by being so funny and entertaining he nearly steals the movie.
This is not a sequel or a remake. These four female ghostbusters have their own back stories, their own quirks, and exist in their own shared world. Interestingly, the New York where they ply their trade is somewhat out of time. We don’t see lots of cell phones or trappings of the now, and only the occasional plot-driven reference to the internet. Kristen Wiig is Erin Gilbert, a professor of physics working to get tenure at Columbia, trying to live down and forget a book about the paranormal she wrote with her childhood friend. Melissa McCarthy as Abby Yates is that friend, who still does research in the basement of a barely accredited college, with the help of genius loose cannon Holtzmann.
When an investigation into a haunting leads to a video that gets Gilbert fired, the three decide to continue their work together. Bored transit agent Patty Tolan (Jones) joins the team after having an encounter with a belligerent ghost on the metro tracks, and the rest is ghost fighting, quip tossing, and slime cleaning fun, especially when dumb as dirt hottie Kevin (Hemsworth) acts as their entirely inept receptionist.
There are a few weaknesses that bring the proton power down…Cameos come fast and fierce, as do other nods to the original franchise, and they tend to pull the audience a bit out of the proceedings. While McKinnon’s character is an oddball hoot and entirely magnetic, some of her moments seem to hang out in the stratosphere in a way that makes them feel out of place and badly paced. Some jokes don’t seem to land particularly well. The movie is probably a good ten minutes too long.
On the other hand, the camaraderie is off the charts. I can’t remember ever feeling more excited to see four people in costumes together, especially as a woman who yearns for cosplay options that don’t involve over 80% of exposed skin. This isn’t just women kicking butt, this is women kicking butt without any help from men, or talking about men, with confidence, fearlessness, and humor. The moment where McKinnon’s character wreaks havoc while wielding two weapons is really worth sitting through the looser aspects of the rest of the film.
The next time the powers-that-be in Hollywood say women can’t open and carry a film, I hope they will be reminded of this one, and strong box office numbers mentioned as proof. Ghostbusters may not be a film for the ages, but it’s definitely deserving of a thumbs up…maybe even a million of them.