Ghostbusters (2016, dir. Paul Feig)
Erin Gilbert is a physics professor on a tenure track a Columbia University but hits a road bump when her past as a paranormal investigator comes back into her life. She ends up working alongside her old partner, Abby, and a new one, Holtzmann, to investigate hauntings in New York City. They recruit Patty, a subway token operator with an encyclopedic knowledge of the city and Kevin, a ditzy secretary to take on an overflow of angry and vengeful spirits that seek to reclaim the land of the living.
Ghostbusters is arguably the most written about film of 2016, inspiring very polarized reactions online. It’s no surprise that the announcement of an all-female cast drew ire and admiration from the camps you would expect. In the lead up to its release, it was difficult to find any conversation that didn’t devolve into an online shouting match. I can’t say I was excited about the remake, but I hadn’t been a big Ghostbusters fan since I was a kid. They are enjoyable movies but nothing that hooked me and brought me back on a regular basis.
I’ve been a big fan of Paul Feig since his work on Freaks and Geeks. I was a senior in high school when that series came out, and it immediately caught my attention. I am a huge fan of Bridesmaids, one of the few films I’ve paid to see multiple times in the theater. It was one of those instances of an entirely perfect cast and well-written script. I enjoyed his follow up The Heat quite a bit but wasn’t too warm on his action-comedy Spy. Bridesmaids still stands as my favorite of his films and a hard movie to top.
If you look at the five highest grossing comedies of 2015, the list goes as follows: Minions, Pitch Perfect 2, Hotel Transylvania 2, The Spongebob Movie, and The Peanuts Movie. My tastes in comedy and the mainstream audience’s comedic preferences are not aligned in any manner. Just a matter of different taste, neither is better than the other. Major film studios are most interested in making broad, inoffensive comedies that they can sell to international audiences. Comedy is very hard to translate because so much of it is based on language play. To dodge that problem modern comedy has adopted even more of an emphasis on physical humor. Look at trailers for comedies; it’s a litany of people falling or getting hit in the head. This isn’t new; it’s just becoming more prevalent as studios look to broaden their revenue streams.
Ghostbusters, due to studio influence, rather than letting comedic minds work without hindrance, ends up being just another mediocre big budget comedy. It’s not an affrontery to humanity as the MRAs would have you believe, but it’s not a revolutionary beacon to womankind either. It’s a seed for a possible franchise as Sony seeks to recover from its failure to do so with Spider-Man. Set pieces are emphasized over interesting and potentially funny character interaction, and the finale is another cut and paste special effects deluge.
After watching the Richard Pryor and Gene Wilder films and reflecting on my love of improv comedy, I’ve come to realize that less is better when it comes to ad libs. You need a very talented comedian to pull off good improv. The success of films like Anchorman has convinced some studio execs that just letting the funny people riff results in comedy gold. It only works if the structure around them is strong enough. I don’t think Kate McKinnon is untalented, but she doesn’t appear to have the support of a strong script and editing, so her comedy feels very shallow and not as intelligent as I know she is. The direction she seems to be given is “make a silly face and contort your body.” I found Leslie Jones to be the funniest character in the film because she is more grounded and if she was improv-ing than she does it in a very nuanced way.
Ghostbusters was never a piece of cinematic art. It was a studio comedy that picked up traction over the years. The newest film isn’t a failure, but it’s just another middle of the road movie with a couple of light chuckles. What’s most annoying is the push to intentionally grow a franchise. Sony seems to believe that by plugging Paul Feig and his acting troupe into a film will result in The Funny. They fail to recognize that the reason why a movie like Bridesmaids was so funny in the first place was the freedoms the creative talent was given to structure a funny story and that is was something new and so the direction of the story was unexpected. Ghostbusters is a fine film for a rental and watch, kids would enjoy it, but it’s not very memorable.