Movies/ Mouthing Off/ A Miscellany

Movies/ Mouthing Off/ A Miscellany
Movies/ Mouthing Off/ A Miscellany

Friday, July 22, 2016

Ghostbusters, Trolls and Trump (Oh My!)

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The 2016 update of Ghostbusters with women in the lead roles loosed some kind of internet poltergeist long before it was even filmed. After the announcement in 2014 legions of the underemployed and over-opinionated flooded the interwebs with their plaintive cries. In a cinematic landscape flooded by reboots, sequels and superheroes, this film, as yet unmade, seemed a veritable red flag in the face of the bulls. The momentum gathered in particularly unpleasant ways; the preview for the new Ghostbusters garnered the most "dislikes" ever on YouTube (955,000 and counting).  Even the presumptive Republican nominee (he'll always be the presumptive nominee to me) got in on the act:

In early July, closer but still prior to the actual release, the IMDb ratings for the film took a nose-dive due to record numbers of "1" ratings by male users defending the faith.

What faith is being defended here, exactly?

It was news to this moviegoer that Ghostbusters constituted a sacred text, but that seemed to be the upshot of the massive online backlash. At the time of its original release Ghostbusters was not critically lauded, yet it undeniably constituted a mile-stone of sorts -- relying on a large and famous cast and an aura of irony and camaraderie, the film rested less on an actual plot than on set-pieces and special effects. This was visionary in a way, in 1984, setting the template for the largely male-centered super-hero and action oriented films of the decades to follow. By the 1989 sequel, however, the sheen was off what never really became a franchise-- in this alone Ghostbusters distinguishes itself from what was to follow, where it is a truth universally acknowledged a blockbuster must never be followed by less than 4 sequels.
But SNL alums such as writer Harold Ramis and stars Bill Murray and Dan Ackroyd were a more anarchic bunch than their internet followers care to acknowledge. They had other artistic fish to fry at the moment and the film landscape was one of fuller possibility, with less need to be in a franchise semi-annually to underwrite a movie acting career (Robert Downey Jr. is addicted to the process.). The haters no doubt loathe the presence of original cast members in the new film; the overlap between the two generational iterations of the film is extensive, resting on deep affiliations with Saturday Night Live and a background in improvisational comedy. (In addition, Ghostbusters original director, Ivan Reitman, is on board this time as producer.) The question for the impartial reviewer (yawn, as if such a creature exists) is whether or not this Ghostbusters is worthy of the mantle.
The answer is: sure, why not. I'm happy to report that the reboot gets much of its comic energy off the the haters themselves. It seems the Male Deities of Ghostbusterhood don't necessarily share the same priorities as these Redditt assholes, and maybe that's why we liked them so much in the first places. After all, Saturday Night Live began in 1975, the heyday of feminism, more or less, and brought us the anarchic comedy of Gilda Radner, along with innumerable other female voices (even, it must be said, Victoria Jackson). When these dudes said, "Jane, you ignorant slut," is was a joke. Come to think of it, maybe that was the original source of  all this confusion.
Because Dan Aykroyd, Bill Murray and Ernie Hudson all make appearances here, seeming pretty much totally fine with women taking their roles (oh my!). The original director Ivan Reitman is back as producer, and the wraith of Harold Ramis, writer and ghostbuster, just whispered in my ear he doesn't give a flying fuck. In short, trolls, these dudes don't need you defending their honor. They ain't that delicate.
The Internet

Ironically, where there lurked some danger of this movie being a lame re-boot, i.e. just another of Marvelous money-printing machines, the haters gave the project just the shot of anarchic energy it required.
Apparently the backlash came early enough in the process that the writers (director Paul Feig and Katie Dippold) were able to incorporate the whole thing into the film itself. Appropriately in the selfie-referential age, the new ghostbusters frequently monitor themselves on social media, where they encounter helpful feedback like "Ain't no bitches gonna hunt no ghosts." They mostly don't react since they have bigger demons to fry. But lucky for them the larger narrative works perfectly as a rejoinder to the subterranean trolls: who are these hungry ghosts lurking in the underground networks (subways) and being channeled through an odd little muttering men? Just the question many of us ask as we peruse the comment sections. The fact that they confront them, use improvised weapons to contain them, and come out the other side stronger and more famous, is on some level a satisfying feminist allegory. Thanks to the ether realms must go to Harold Ramis, who wrote not only the original film but Groundhog Day, the film that showed that comedy itself can be an infinitely roomy and philosophical genre. Maybe that's why it has become such contested territory in the brutal cultural wars of our age. (Methinks it's no coincidence that a bunch of theater-goers were gunned down at the Amy Schumer comedy Trainwreck.)
I just read Anthony Lane's tepid defense of the film, decrying the online hatred but basically saying the new crew isn't as laid-back and "funky" as Bill Murray et al. (As our premier laconic cultural critic, Lane is eminently qualified to monitor proper levels of "I don't care.") I think he's wrong though: coming off very good streaks, both commercially and artistically, Kristen Wiig and Melissa McCarthy seem very relaxed. This isn't make or break for them. They can just enjoy the jokes and the costumes, and we can enjoy them with them. In fact, the first scene features Wiig stretches on stage in a silly Ivy League suit, limber as a cat. "Big lecture in the main hall," she intones. As if. The other two SNL cast members, who I was unfamiliar with, bring a little more urgency to their roles. Kate McKinnon is being hailed for her oddly electrifying performance. To me she seemed like a minion made flesh, the cute underlings that took over the franchise.

And as far as Leslie Jones is concerned, it's impossible not to mention the viral racist attacks on her that forced her off twitter this week. If it seems like I haven't really talked about the movie enough, you're right--for both good and ill, the making and reception of this movie are more important than the  movie franchise.
Franchise. Disenfranchisement. That's what it's about at this point. I was chatting to a dad I know about the film (he knew I was blogging about it), He asking what my "take" was and if he should take his daughter. Meanwhile the media savvy moms I knew had already been there and done that, and their daughters were already plotting which ghostbuster to be for Halloween. So yes, go~

--Grace Lovelace