Sunday, November 13, 2016

A timely dose of girl power

Women cannot be president of the United States -- not yet, anyway -- but they can be Ghostbusters.

This was the subject of infamous debate on the internet, in what now reads as an ominous portent of what was going to happen in the presidential election. We are a nation not only divided by ideology, unfortunately, but also by gender. If you didn't want a woman picking up a proton pack and particle thrower, you certainly didn't want her finger on the button. (And I don't mean you you, of course. You're cool.)

The reasons Hillary wasn't elected are surely more complicated than that. I'm not going to re-litigate that today.

What I am going to do is set the stage for our renting of Ghostbusters. We wanted something essentially silly to take our mind off the state of the world, but also something that would place women in a position of power, if only for a bit of symbolism about our ongoing liberal agenda. Well, that was my own rationale for suggesting it, anyway. The speed with which my wife agreed on the choice indicated it was sound logic.

The timing was also a bit fraught, though. What if we didn't like it? Or worse, what if we really didn't like it? It might make things worse. The thing we had chosen as a balm could end up squirting Tabasco sauce into our wounds.

Well fortunately, I'm a thumbs up on this movie. I just wish it could be a slightly more definitive thumbs up.

Whether or not women can be Ghostbusters -- or would seem natural as them -- never figured to be an issue for me, and I'm glad to say it wasn't. In fact, I loved the way this team came together. It felt natural and I was cheering on these likable characters. I even liked the choices made by Kate McKinnon, having written a post in which I described her as one of my biggest worries about the movie. When you really commit to a characterization -- and boy does McKinnon commit -- you are going to misfire sometimes. But she hit a lot more than she misfired, and it gave the movie a real additional dose of eccentricity.

Unfortunately, the problem with this movie is that after it has that promising beginning, it doesn't feel like it has a middle or an end. It has scenes that are playing the part of a middle scene, the part of an end scene. But the story is not constructed in such a way to give us the proper momentum toward that middle and end. I don't know how to describe it any better than that. The story of this villain trying to open a gateway to the spiritual world didn't do a lot for me, I'm sorry to say.

Only about 12 hours after watching it, I already don't remember big parts of it. We were both falling asleep a bit, so that's no doubt a contributing factor. Still, I wouldn't say I lost more than a minute of what was happening. Maybe my overall state of exhaustion -- it's been a long and tiring week -- contributed to a kind of fugue state in which I couldn't solidify an impression of the movie.

Or maybe it just wasn't that memorable.

What I do remember, though, is laughing. I laughed out loud at least a dozen times in this film, and many comedies cannot claim such a high success rate. The film looked better than I thought it was going to look and it was funnier than I thought it was going to be. So what if it wasn't perfect? It was a Ghostbusters movie that made me laugh. End of story.

The question I should probably address, in a post with this title, is whether the movie felt specifically empowering toward these women, whether it provided me a specific sense of inspiration. I guess the answer is that it did, but more in the sense that the movie was made at all than in anything textual. They are not better or worse Ghostbusters because they are women. They are not better or worse scientists because they are women. They are not better or worse people because they are women. They are just people, and in most other movies, they would be male people. That itself is something.

Of course, the fact that the movie was roundly rejected and is considered a flop casts a pall over all of this.

I'll close by briefly addressing three other talked-about aspects of the film:

1) The cameos from the original movie. A lot of people thought they killed the pace of the film and prevented it from being its own distinct entity. I didn't have that issue. With the possible exception of Bill Murray's usage, the scenes were all short enough not to feel like anything was being belabored. It didn't detract. But I don't really think it added either.

2) Leslie Jones. The worry was that the only character who isn't a scientist is the black transit worker. Would a truly progressive female Ghostbusters have made the black Ghostbuster one of the scientists? Maybe. But this film does right by Jones' character. The street sass that could have been played up is not. And she's pretty much always making the right decisions. I liked the character, and more importantly, I liked how the film treated her.

3) Chris Hemsworth as the bimbo receptionist. He made me laugh a lot, but only in proportion to the rest of the characters. So, the narrative that the "one funny part of the movie was a man" is also not something I agree with.

So the world may not have been truly ready for a female president or female Ghostbusters. But I'm not going to use the evidence of 2016 to discourage me. And I don't think the studios are either.

And ultimately, I don't think the electorate is either.

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