Ghostbusters Finds New Laughs Inside an Old Formula
Paul Feig’s remake is hilarious, forward-looking, and delightfully in touch with its origins.
Rebooting beloved classics is delicate business. On the artistic side of the deal, we pray for the offshoot to stand on its own two feet with a fresh take on the original recipe. On the broader cultural front, perhaps the trickier-to-fulfill facet of the whole remake madness, we nervously hope what we get can fend off countless cynics (who usually await with sharpened knives) by offering them a creative output both new and exciting, and warmly familiar through a graceful embracement (but not aggressive imitation) of its predecessor.
After months of speculation, swelling anticipation, and OK, fanboy whining, it’s extremely good news that Bridesmaids and Spy director Paul Feig’s Ghostbusters reboot, co-written by him and Katie Dippold, accomplishes all that and then some. Enormously entertaining and ingeniously cast (wait until you discover the kind of gold Kate McKinnon is), Ghostbusters is a quirky and at times, laugh-out-loud pleasure that takes its guffaws and scares just seriously enough to work its magic and spooks on the audience. Skeptics; rest assured. You are in for the kind of treat that’s all too rare these days: a solid studio comedy, both nostalgic and forward-looking at once.
Like in its 1984 ancestor, we are in the haunted streets of New York City once again, because what city could possibly use some deep cleansing and a fearless team of saviors more urgently than the Big Apple? As we explore the historic (and fictional) Aldridge Mansion under the direction of a tour guide (Zach Woods) in the beginning of film, we quickly realize – with the fantastical appearance of the flaunting, see-through spirit of Gertrude Aldridge– the inflated and creatively embellished ghost stories he tells to the patrons contain some truth. In another part of the town, we follow professor Erin Gilbert (Kristen Wiig, as amply deadpan-mannered as ever) while she determinedly chases the tenure she’s been promised by Columbia University.
It’s when she discovers that an embarrassing ghost book she once co-wrote with her friend Abby Yates (Melissa McCarthy, with her usual comedic authority) has become an Amazon, ahem, “sensation”, that her career takes an ambiguous turn. Knowing a respectable institution like Columbia wouldn’t tolerate such humiliation, she pays a visit to Abby, who works at a much less prestigious institution with her idiosyncratic science partner Jillian (Kate McKinnon, a marvel and a frequent scene-stealer despite a slightly underwritten part.) The trio make a deal: they’ll join forces for the Aldridge case, and Abby will eventually take the book down from Amazon. The plot thickens when poltergeists multiply and a nerdy, comically-evil villain (Neil Casey) emerges as the driving force behind all the potentially-catastrophic ghost activity in the city. The trio recruits the street-savvy MTA employee Patty (Leslie Jones, with bravura comedic chops) to join their ranks and manage to hire the world’s worst receptionist Kevin (an excellent Chris Hemsworth as you’ve never seen before) for their elaborate operation headquartered on the second floor of a Chinese take-out joint.
Filled with “Saturday Night Live”-ish exchanges throughout (mostly good ones, chief among them about a pet named “Michael Hat”) and carried on the shoulders of an ensemble cast that interlocks with harmonious chemistry, Ghostbusters is an end-to-end comedic pleasure. But there is more to the film’s many delights. Like the recent progressive comedy Neighbors 2, Ghostbusters is a breath of fresh air when it comes to gender equality on screen and liberal ideas on the page. But (thankfully) unlike Neighbors 2, it doesn’t attempt to over-explain its feminism through a man’s awakening or spell out its ideas to an audience that it assumes to be under-informed. Instead, Feig and Dippold’s script dares to comfortably live feminism without breaking a sweat and imagines a world where women of all stripes could contribute to society without apologizing for who they are. The film lets the cast run wild with this attitude too: expect to see the quartet converse about subjects as highbrow as physics and history, and as immature as farts. Expect to see their (female) gaze validated, physical strength unquestioned and expertise valued, especially by Mayor Bradley (Andy Garcia), whose only aim is to outdo the half-witted town mayor in Jaws. Dare I say it, McCarthy, Wiig, Jones and McKinnon receive the same treatment a comedy of this nature would give to an all (or mostly) male cast and score countless well-earned laughs along the way. Some thought “ain’t no bitches are gonna hunt no ghosts?” They should think again.
Ghostbusters’ most obvious overarching joy (as it also was the case in its predecessors) is the optimism it prescribes following its slightly overstretched grand-finale, where the ladies not only fight the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man, but also a monster-sized version of their own logo to save New York City from evil-doings. Sure, the city glaringly isn’t New York sometimes (a considerable amount of the production took place in Boston) and the effects aren’t always first rate, but the unifying civic pride we get at the end – that we last felt in Spider-man 2 perhaps – is disarming, as it knowingly injects some much-needed naïve hope into one’s bloodstream in dark times that require it the most.
Feig’s Ghostbusters confidently carves out its own spot within a much-adored universe by welcoming a different audience into its crazy enchanted layers, while winking to the original’s fans with friendly faces (surprise), familiar gadgets and musical cues they will recognize. There is plenty that is new here, just some that is old but welcome, and almost nothing hastily borrowed.