One thing we all need to know about Ghostbusters is that my husband enjoyed it unequivocally. And that’s great news, because he is Prime Target Audience.
My husband is by no stretch of the imagination one of the charming male-persons who has been so determined to ruin the box office prospects of this movie. (He wouldn’t be my husband if he were!) And he will even go see overtly Angry Feminist movies with me, if I cash in my chips properly. That just isn’t what happened last night, when he saw a movie he genuinely enjoyed.
So when I started the very early processes of articulating the thing that bothered me a tiny bit about this movie, the genderlessness of it all, he rolled his eyes at me and said he had enjoyed it, and not to overthink a solidly decent piece of Hollywood fluff.
Unfortunately, he’s probably right. And I’m delighted that Ghostbusters ended up being solidly decent. My review is not an apology or a plea for you to hold your nose and support an inferior product (but do go vote with your dollars… please!). In fact, the movie is better than solidly decent; it’s a truly fun ride.
What this movie isn’t is a movie for or about women.
It easily passes the Bechdel Test, of course. These ladies have enough ghosts to talk about that they don’t need to discuss Relationships With Men even a little. With the obvious exception of Chris Hemsworth’s over-the-top role as a dumb but pretty receptionist, the subject doesn’t come up at all.
And that’s exactly the problem. The subject doesn’t come up at all. It’s like this movie is the #NotAllWomen of summer films. It bends over backwards not to be about its most obvious feature.
On the positive side, the movie avoids some road bumps in the form of very expected Hollywood tropes. Kristin Wiig’s character, for example, becomes reacquainted with her former BFF (Melissa McCarthy) and finds her in a deep business and personal relationship with Kate McKinnon, yet the film wastes not a single second on awkward jockeying for friend-position, let alone on the backstabbing hijinks and tearful apologies such a situation could spawn. And while there is a running food gag and it does involve Melissa McCarthy, it’s a perfectly reasonable demand for quality in her favorite take-out and has nothing to do with her weight. In fact, at one point, Leslie Jones casually calls out that she wishes McCarthy would please eat more frequently because skipping meals is bad for her blood sugar. The (I suspect very deliberate) absence of the obvious jokes here is delightful.
On the other hand, the dynamic among the four Ghostbusters is completely free of any recognizable sisterhood. With the notable exception of their (heterosexual) appreciation for Hemsworth eye-candy, these ladies might as well be men. They share no struggle. Nobody makes self-deprecating (or body-positive!) comments about the jumpsuits. There is not the tiniest bit of eye rolling at being casually called “girls” by authorities. The criticism of Kristin Wiig’s clothing by her boss feels as if it occurs in a context-free vacuum in which it is solely about clothes. Even as the Ghostbusters are dismissed and marginalized by the mayor, it feels as if they’re dismissed and marginalized purely because they’re crackpots. It occurs to neither the ladies nor anybody around them that they’re being dismissed because they’re women.
And this too is delightful! I’m not going to sit here and write a review in which I disparage a world without constant sexist microagression. It’s awesome. It’s just not the world I live in. And it feels on purpose. It might not be, entirely — there are only so many minutes in a movie, and not everything can be addressed. But especially in the hateful, tense environment surrounding the release of this film, it feels like a complete avoidance of anything to do with gender because that’s no fun. Such a bummer. These ladies aren’t like that. They’re, you know, just like dudes.
The sisterhood isn’t completely sanitized, of course. There are a couple very tiny, you-could-miss-them lines I adored, mostly involving the fabulous Kate McKinnon. At one point she curiously, non-judgmentally asks Kristin Wiig what it’s like “to wear shoes like that all day.” Wiig’s side-eye highlights the nontraditional dress of McKinnon’s mad-scientist character, but she treats the question as legitimate (and her reply is “not great!”). Later, buried in the credits, McKinnon casually tosses off the fact that “Safety lights are for dudes.” I’m signing up for that line on a t-shirt.
But that’s it. That’s the subversive feminist content of this film, lambasted for months as a secret SJW brainwashing tool. And it feels weird to be sitting here nostalgic for the degree of girl-power of, say, network TV’s “Supergirl.”
Bottom line, though: go see this. Now. Maybe twice. Vote with your dollars. Buy merchandise. (Somebody please let me know when McKinnon’s necklace is available on Etsy.) Do it. We all know how this baby steps process has to work. And maybe next time Hollywood will be that much less afraid of making films with women, and the next one can be that much better.