FRANCHISE REWIND: Ghostbusters (2016)

Ghostbusters, 2016 (Melissa McCarthy) Columbia Pictures/Sony Pictures Releasing

“Never compare me to the mayor in Jaws! Never!”

This is what happens when you go too far. Sometimes an idea has to stay relevant, even if the relevancy comes about in a wholly inorganic way. We can keep the idea alive by referencing it, by restoring it, perhaps by “rebooting” it. Was Ghostbusters from 1984 an idea that needed to be restored, referenced, or rebooted? Restoring Ghostbusters is a simple task. It could have been re-released in theaters, given the four-star treatment. The movie is referenced constantly. It’s a landmark of the pop culture.

If it was something you were either too old or too young to experience when it happened in 1984, why would you need for the idea to be rebooted? There’s nothing about the original Ghostbusters that isn’t fresh or unfunny. It’s (I hate to use the word because it makes me feel like a relic) a classic. Why the need for the reboot? Let’s forget the cynical argument: the Tale of Money and Exploitation of Generation X Touchstones. I have a 15-year old daughter. If I felt I couldn’t communicate with her on some level we could both understand, the reboot stands between us as a surrogate.

The problem with this reasoning is that we’ve watched the original Ghostbusters several times and I’ve caught her giggling and smiling more than a few times. She hates when I catch her laughing, but it delights me because it shows me she has a sense of humor. She didn’t laugh once watching the reboot. She might’ve smiled once or twice, but she didn’t laugh. It’s strange to me that the only times I laughed were in situations revolving around Chris Hemsworth’s character, the himbo receptionist, Kevin. I think I laughed because I wasn’t expecting him to be funny (though he can be quite funny as Thor).

I was expecting the four leads to be funny because THEY ARE COMEDIANS! I guess I was expecting too much. Watching the movie, I was struck by two different feelings: confusion and ultimately, sadness. I was confused because I was trying to figure out the comedy, and then sadness because I began to feel that comedy had died, or was impossible to achieve in this new era of second wave puritanism. Too many of life’s “supervisors” are leaning over the shoulders of the dream makers and editing their desires.

Sorry to get heavy, but I am capable of more than one thought when watching a reboot of Ghostbusters. Here’s another thought: I was watching the movie and I couldn’t get a song out of my head. It was the Ramones version of the Tom Waits song, “I Don’t Wanna Grow Up.” What do you think it means? I was eleven years old when Ghostbusters was released. Let’s talk about the movie. Embarrassed that she co-authored a book about ghosts many years ago, Erin Gilbert (Kristen Wiig) seeks to conduct serious research into the paranormal.

Her co-author Abby Yates (Melissa McCarthy), working with Jillian Holtzmann (Kate McKinnon) are developing equipment to identify and fight ghosts. They decide to join forces when Abby loses her tenure after a video of an encounter with a supernatural entity goes viral. I don’t know why her job would care about the video. It sounds like she has a good lawsuit, but we don’t go that way. Instead, we get queef jokes. I know. Since they can’t afford the ridiculous rent for the firehouse from the first Ghostbusters movie, they take an apartment above a Chinese restaurant which, I have to admit, is clever, but they never do anything with it.

2016’s Ghostbusters is a movie of so many missed opportunities. They bring MTA worker Patty Tolan (Leslie Jones) into the fray after she reports disturbances in the subway system. For the bigger picture, it seems that scientist Rowan North (creepy-looking Neil Casey) is focusing spiritual turbulence to converge on a hotel in midtown Manhattan which will create a vortex and possibly bring about an apocalypse. Why would anyone want an apocalypse? I’ve never understood this. What’s worse, North is a fan of Gilbert and Yates, having an annotated copy of their book. That’s the power of reading, kids!

The visual effects are decent enough, but we’ve come to expect that, especially in a movie with a reported $144 million budget. The integration of the effects into the saturated image and strangely off-center compositions is another problem. The editing is a little confusing as well. A bored Bill Murray cameos as a bored debunker. Dan Aykroyd plays a cab driver. Sigourney Weaver, Annie Potts, and Ernie Hudson also have cameos, but this is a Ghostbusters movie set outside the Ghostbusters universe. There is no “canon” to speak of. Director Paul Feig knows comedy. He created the short-lived cult favorite, Freaks and Geeks, and directed episodes of The Office, Weeds, and Arrested Development, but this is not the humor of Ghostbusters.

While Ghostbusters may have influenced or inspired Feig’s brand of humor, there is no clear genealogy. Ghostbusters was the logical progression of slobs versus snobs comedy (popularized by the Marx Brothers), the modern iteration of which most likely started in 1970 with M*A*S*H* and was revitalized with National Lampoon’s Animal House. The gimmick of an all-female cast focuses the material, and places too much emphasis on it to ever be funny to an uncritical eye. We’re fixated on “finding the funny” when we should be paying attention to the story.

The humor is based on reaction-following comment-following reaction-sardonic retort-following comment all with the driving force of the straight man reacting to strange situations and circumstances. Needless to say, it doesn’t work and it is a shame. Each of these ladies is funny and capable of delivering laughs. It’s almost like they’re not permitted, for if we did, we’d be laughing at them because they’re women, and not because they’re, god forbid, funny. What’s wrong with just making a funny movie?

For more Franchise Rewind, visit Second Union!

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