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I Ain’t Afraid of No Lady Ghostbusters

Ghostbusters — Melissa McCarthy-Kate McKinnon-Kristen Wiig-Leslie Jones-Chris Hemsworth — Directed by Paul Feig — Columbia Pictures — PG13
It’s been 32 years since the original Ghostbusters were being covered with green ectoplasm.  Like many children of the ‘80s, I was in no hurry to see any reboots of the iconic movie that brought us Slimer, the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man, and that catchy theme song.  Until, that is, I heard that Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Kate McKinnon, and Leslie Jones were slinging on their proton packs and buttoning up their jumpsuits to catch some ghosts.  While much criticism has been made of the primarily female cast (this is 2016, right?), the four leads deliver both outrageous and subtle lines to keep the audience laughing throughout the PG-13 rated film directed by Paul Feig.

The movie opens with a ghost-sighting at the Aldridge Mansion, complete with plenty of green slime plastered all over the scene.  The proprietor of the mansion tracks down Dr. Erin Gilbert (Wiig) after finding a book on Amazon that she wrote on paranormal activity with her former best friend Dr. Abbie Yates (McCarthy).  Since Gilbert is up for tenure at Columbia University, she wants to shut down the sale of the book quickly and restore her reputation in academia, so she sets out to track down Yates.  Gilbert finds Yates still studying paranormal activity with a nuclear engineer named Jillian Holtzmann (McKinnon) at a less-than-credible science institute.  The two mad scientists are working on ghost detection and containment technology in their lab.  After Gilbert explains how she came across the book, Yates and Holtzmann are eager to check out the paranormal activity at the Aldridge Mansion.   The trio finds that there are, indeed, ghosts at the mansion after a beautiful apparition vomits green slime all over Gilbert.  Not only does Gilbert not get tenure, she loses her job at Columbia after a video of the ghost encounter goes viral on YouTube, thus positioning her to join forces with Yates and Holtzmann in the ghost-hunting business.  Yates and Holtzmann also lose their jobs after the incident, but manage to smuggle enough of their lab equipment out of the science institute to begin their own ghost-hunting business named “Conductors of the Metaphysical Examination.”  Meanwhile, Patty Tolan (Jones), a transit worker, sees an apparition in the subway system and seeks out the help of the newly formed group, who are later dubbed “Ghostbusters” by the press.  Tolan, who has endless knowledge of New York City, lends her services to round out the team.  The four Ghostbusters set up shop above a Chinese restaurant and hire a dumb but beautiful receptionist named Kevin (Chris Hemsworth).  As ghosts continue to flood New York City, the group learns that a villain named Rowan North (Neil Casey) is responsible for unleashing the mystic beings and hopes to use his own paranormal science to eliminate the human population.  The Ghostbusters not only have to fight Rowan and his army of ghosts, but also legitimize their business to the public at the same time.

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Wiig and McCarthy provide solid performances as they banter back and forth and rebuild their friendship on paranormal activity, but McKinnon and Jones are the film’s standout performances.  McKinnon shines as the quirky and irreverent Holtzmann, much like many of her Saturday Night Live characters.  Her ridiculous deadpan remarks and ludicrous gags (such as dancing to “Rhythm of the Night” through her lab and eating Pringles in the midst of a ghost fight) will have the audience laughing throughout the movie, particularly those who have a drier sense of humor.  Jones shows off her acting prowess as the upbeat and wacky Tolan, who provides the mad scientists with a sense of normalcy and common sense.  On Saturday Night Live, Jones characters often seem to have a one-dimensional quality, which makes this role a refreshing departure.  Finally, Hemsworth provides lots of laughs as the idiotic receptionist who constantly thwarts the Ghostbusters with his mistakes.  (Gilbert lets him stick around because he’s pretty scenery.)   This role is a far cry from Hemsworth’s days as Thor and the Huntsman, which makes the gags even more laughable.

Several cameos by the cast of the original Ghostbusters add to the laughs and nostalgia of the movie.  Bill Murray, Dan Akroyd, Ernie Hudson, Annie Potts, and Sigourney Weaver all appear in the film, as well as the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man, Slimer, and the Ecto 1.  There are clever inclusions of the theme song as well as an interesting play on how the Ghostbusters choose their logo.  While some critics have argued that the film is too close to the original, the homage is paid in quirky and sometimes inventive ways.

The film also subtly and comically addresses the criticism that it faced prior to release.  For example, at one point the women are reading reproachful comments on the YouTube video of the encounter between Gilbert and the Aldridge Mansion ghost.  The comments disparagingly reject the concept of a female Ghostbuster.  Yates admonishes Gilbert to never read the comments on those kinds of videos, which is a nod to the criticism of their movie, particularly the first trailer which was widely panned.   It was a smart and subtle jab that effectively addressed the scornful naysayers.

While there were some slow moments in the middle of the movie, overall the lead characters hold their own in the fight against the paranormal.  Not only are their acting skills and timing on par, their portrayal of women in the sciences and as a force-to- be-reckoned with is much needed in this culture.  The original Ghostbusters will always be an icon, but my childhood in the ‘80s can remain intact while welcoming a new generation of Ghostbusters to the theater.

About Jennifer Stevens

Jennifer Stevens is a Greencastle native and a DePauw University graduate, who later earned her PhD from Purdue.

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