I waited a week to write this because I didn’t want to accidentally spoil anything. Now, you’re on your own. If you haven’t seen Ghostbusters, just know that you might get slimed with story points if you read further.
I was halfway into Ghostbuster, getting elbowed to death by my excited son, who kept reaching up with his greasy, pizza fingers to grab at my arm, or my shoulder, or my leg (because we went to an eatie theater, as we call them) to share his amusement, or delight, or actual sheer glee, when I realized I’d never seen anything like this before. Not like Ghostbusters because I obviously saw and loved the originals, but like THIS. I was watching an action/comedy with four women—my aged women—who weren’t built like Megan Fox, with hair like Blake Lively, and faces like Jennifer Lawrence. I wasn’t sure what to do with it.
This wasn’t Denise Richards playing a Daisy-Duke-wearing physicist, whose very name was chosen because it could be the punchline of an orgasm joke.
This wasn’t Angelina Jolie running through a video game plotline, boobs bouncing in a tight tank top.
This wasn’t even Rebel Wilson making jokes about how gross she is because she’s fat.
These were four women I could plausibly meet on the street, wearing clothes I might find in my own closet, doing science-y stuff with believable intellect and interest in the subject, who never once made a fat joke, or worried about having too many cats, or went and had a makeover before finding enough inner strength from their new outer beauty to ask a man to help them solve a problem. It was…I can’t really tell you how it felt because I’ve never felt it before.
I kept waiting for the fat joke. I kept waiting for the cat-lady joke. I kept waiting for the lesbian joke. I kept waiting for the biological timeclock joke. I kept waiting for one of them to lament her romantic loneliness. I kept waiting for one of them to apologize to a man for being awesome, or to have to go home to cook dinner for someone, or to break a heel. I kept waiting for the wink to the audience, to let us know that they knew they might be playing Ghostbusters, but they understood that they were only Lady Ghostbusters, not real ones.
Those jokes never came, and the only wink was Kate McKinnon’s gloriously daft scene-stealer. It was almost like riding up to the top of the roller coaster, only to have it curve gently and carry you back to the station without the usual drop off. Weirdly, I felt like something was missing.
At first, I thought it was the grounding in reality to the Sigourney Weaver, Dana, character. The character, who in the original is possessed by Zuul and does much the same as receptionist Kevin (Chris Hemsworth and his biceps). But other than being possessed and rebuffing Venkman, Dana doesn’t play much of a part. And Kevin gives us both of those—his possession is as crazy ride as Dana’s, and his cool response to Gilbert’s drooling is exactly the male flipside of Dana’s exasperation with Venkman.
Then, I thought maybe it was in the character building. Maybe it was because we didn’t have a backstory on anyone other than Gilbert. But Venkman was the only original Ghostbuster who got any kind of work-life-balance story. (I have seen the first two Ghostbusters around 70 times, as those were the only movies the kids I babysat in the 80s ever wanted to watch. And don’t even get me started on the cartoon.) The Ghostbuster characters of today were exactly as fleshed out as the ones of old.
Then I thought it might have been because they never “crossed the streams,” and I wasn’t feeling the thrill of the original bromance, but they did their own version of the streams, and these Ghostbusters are immediately sticking out their necks for one another.
I finally had to admit that the problem was me. The problem was that I didn’t know how to watch a movie about middle-aged, average looking women, who wear work appropriate gear, do work appropriate things, and are hyper-competent without having to ask a man (or a better looking woman) for help. I didn’t know how to watch that movie because I’ve never seen that movie before.
The only other movies I could think of that even came close for comedy, action, or just saturation of female characters were my favorite Drop Dead Gorgeous, but that’s about a bunch of nubile teens after a beauty title (and the reason I forgive Denise Richards for any awful thing she ever makes because—please. Just watch Drop Dead Gorgeous), Thelma & Louise, but that’s all centered around a man, and men, and good lord does that end badly for everyone, and Spice World, which has comedy, action, and is nearly all women, but is hardly a movie. I’m sorry, Spices! You know I love you! Girl power!
Something like scales fell off my eyes. What was missing from the movie were the tropes, and the cues I’m used to following, telling me how to watch a woman as either the ingénue, the mother, the lesbian, or the crone. No one was telling me how to see these average women, who in reality would be socially invisible. There were no hooks, so to speak—no reason anyone would normally want to look at these people. I was watching invisible women do incredible things—how does that work?
How does it work when we’ve been trained to ignore fat, homely, too-tall, too-dark, too-pasty, bad-haired, poorly made-up, sadly dressed, average women over the age of 35, and suddenly, they are starring in the movie, and are the only people to watch? How do we watch them? No one has told us.
So, I’m going to go see it again. This time, I’m going to watch it with new eyes. I’m going to go watch the Ghostbusters vanquish their foes. I’m going to go watch the Ghostbusters do weird science. I’m going to go enjoy an action/comedy, and I’m going to enjoy watching invisible women doing the work. And I’m going to take my kid with me because he’s still talking about it in a way he has never talked about, or responded to the original. Because these ladies are wicked cool.
And when he puts his little, greasy paws on me, laughing, I’m going to enjoy it even more because he’s growing up in a world where a woman really can be anything without apologizing for it. Even a Ghostbuster.