On Saturday night, I went to the cinema for the first time in god-knows-how-long, handing over the extortionate amount of cash Vue now charges and settling down with a knot in the pit of my stomach and one thought running through my mind.
“Please be good.”
Why? Because I was here to see the new Ghostbusters, which was subjected to huge amounts of criticism, outrage and downright vitriol online after it was announced that the cast would be played by *gasp* women. Legions of whiny men took to the internet to claim that their childhoods would be ruined, apparently sparing no thought for all the girls and women who have grown up accustomed to their gender being sidelined in film since the dawn of Hollywood. I was lucky enough to have a fairly gender-neutral upbringing, but I’ve still put up with years of seeing my gender reflected back at me as one-dimensional, hyper-sexualised secondary characters. I wanted Ghostbusters to be the anti-thesis of all these lazy character profiles, but I also really wanted it to simply be a good film.
I was not disappointed. It may not have been an Oscar nominee or a finely crafted instant classic, but like the original Ghostbusters it was a fun-filled rollercoaster of slime-belching aliens and proton gun-wielding heroes. Except the heroes are heroines, and not toned, pouting heroines squeezed into tight-fitting lycra, but complex, charismatic heroines of all shapes and sizes rocking baggy boiler suits. By the end of the film Beverley and I were practically dancing out of the theatre, filled with energy by the simple experience of seeing women we could relate to saving the world.
In a way the bitter detractors of the Ghostbusters reboot were right – it’s probably not as good as the original. The ‘villain’ is weak, the plot unravels slightly towards the end and I think it suffers for trying too hard to echo the original film, but there’s one delicious twist. The female characters are not what break the film – they are what make it as good as it is. Let’s take a look at our four awesome heroines…
Erin is the woman we all wish we weren’t but probably are, even if it’s just a little bit. She’s an intelligent, accomplished scientist with a good job as a physics professor at Columbia University, and yet she’s crippled by self doubt and a desperate need to prove herself to people. The film is set in motion when Erin goes looking for Abby to ask her to take their book on ghosts off Amazon, terrified that her stuffy boss will discover it and judge her for it. When she’s fired she stumbles out of her office shrilly announcing to everyone around her that her box full of stuff isn’t what it looks like, and later in the film she literally lets their first captured ghost escape rather than let Bill Murray’s character leave believing them to be delusional frauds. It takes Erin a while to break free from her prim, uptight facade but she comes through in the end, and is never demonised in the same way that women of that trope often are.
Abby is the anti-Erin; when Erin left their studies of ghosts to pursue a more ‘respectable’ career in physics Abby continued the work she believed in. She’s not oblivious to the fact that a lot of people think she’s a crackpot, but she doesn’t care because she knows in herself that her work has merit. When Bill Murray’s character comes to their lab demanding to see their ghost Abby tries to stop Erin from setting it free because she doesn’t feel the need to prove herself to him; she accepts that haters gonna hate and focuses on getting shit done. In a lesser film she would probably be characterised as the unfeeling ice queen who only cares about her career, but Abby also cares deeply about her friends and is clearly affected when Erin shows up in her lab, her affection for her old partner battling with her feeling of betrayal at being deserted. She may not waste any energy worrying about the opinions of strangers but she does value the opinions of the people she loves and respects, and that’s a pretty solid way to approach life in general.
Kate McKinnon is the stand out performance in the cast.She plays the quirky engineer Holtzman who is more at ease with machines than humans, and I admit I spent the whole film trying to decide if I wanted to be with her, or just be her. She’s a massive nerd who has so much pride and genuine excitement in her work; the casual confidence with which she shows off her new inventions actually gave me a twinge of regret that I don’t have an aptitude for science. She’s the walking, talking proof that women can be smart, sexy, nerdy and a tomboy without any of these traits negating the others. She’s also pretty much out and proud; her flirtation with her fellow Ghostbusters is delicious. While some people have expressed disappointment that Holtzman’s homosexuality was not made more prominent I actually found it refreshing; while there’s compelling evidence to suggest that all the Ghostbusters are at least bi, sexuality is largely absent from the story, because – newsflash – a woman’s sexuality is not relevant in a story about fighting evil ghosts.
I’m not going to address the issues around Ghostbusters casting the token black character as the only non-scientist for the second time; it’s disappointing but there are plenty articles around the internet discussing it way more eloquently than I can (like this one). Instead I’m going to talk about how Patty teaches us to know our worth, and not be shy about letting others know it too. Patty may not have a degree, but she sees the Ghostbusters doing something awesome and demands to be involved, ignoring their incredulous expressions as she points out the value of her knowledge of New York, a knowledge that none of the other women have. Notably, she’s the one who has the idea to close the void by crashing the Ghostbusters car into it, a plan that ultimately saves the world. In a society where the majority of women will not apply for a job unless they meet 100% of the criteria, it’s good to be inspired by female characters who lead with what they know and figure out the rest along the way.
Have you seen Ghostbusters, and did it fill you with feminist joy? Let me know in the comments!