“Ghostbusters” and the Pitfalls of Sexist Movie Critics

Ghostbusters has a lot riding on its shoulders. To start with, it’s a remake, which means it’s already subject to scrutiny by longtime fans of the original, but it faces an additional hurdle of being an “all female” remake, which opens the door to waves of blatant or clandestine misogyny all over the internet. No one bats an eye at a cast of four male Ghostbusters, but four women? Clearly, there’s a feminist conspiracy and director Paul Feig hates men. If the movie doesn’t achieve significant box office success, the fear is that studios will interpret this “failure” as “proof” that women can’t consistently headline blockbuster movies, setting women back in their quest for Hollywood parity. No pressure. 

ghostbustersvia Empire

Actually, there is a conspiracy, but it’s a misogynistic vice feminist one, and it has to do with how movies are crowd reviewed. Per this fascinating article on how movie ratings are skewed on online sites, male reviewers are more likely to rate features with a female-heavy audience lower. That’s bad news for obvious “chick flicks” like Bridget Jones’s Baby or art house films like Carol, but it’s hurting Ghostbusters as well. How bad is this sexist skew? Before Ghostbusters even premiered, its average IMDB user rating among men was 3.6 out of 10, while women users rated it a 7.7. Given that there were 7,547 male reviewers and only 1,564 female reviewers, it tanked the movie’s average user rating to 4.1. Anyone just relying on IMDB to decide whether to see the movie or not would immediately assume it was a bomb. Thanks, guys.  

Nor has the media been helpful in putting the movie’s progress in context now that it’s opened. Ghostbusters debuted this weekend with a box office of $46 million, making it the best debut for a live-action comedy since Pitch Perfect 2 in May 2015. That’s a decent performance, given live action comedy is just not a huge blockbuster genre right now and that the domestic box office is down about 5.5% this summer. Articles about the movie have labeled Ghostbusters’ opening box office “solid,” but in the same breath report that the film lost out to a kid’s movie about talking pets and worry about its staying power. Although this is a technically accurate and dispassionate analysis, lay readers—especially ones already aware that the reboot was controversial—are likely to think the movie is mediocre at best and steer clear, creating a cascading negative effect unless it can be countered by positive word of mouth.

Even when compared to other movies released this summer, Ghostbusters held its own on opening weekend. Forbes notes, for example, that Ghostbusters performed exactly as anticipated, and was the third biggest live-action opening of this summer behind X-Men: Apocalypse and Captain America: Civil War. The Legend of Tarzan, on the other hand, earned a paltry $38 million on its opening weekend—it had a budget of $180 million—and yet commentators are still saying optimistic things like “it did better than predicted” and “there’s a shot it could top $125 million” because of foreign sales. For Columbia Pictures, the real problem is not the size of Ghostbusters’ box office opening, but rather the fact that Ghostbusters had a $144 million budget and is not expected to outperform overseas, where female leads are likely to get a chilly reception. If the movie can’t recoup its budget cost, it will be considered a failure and the chances of a sequel go to all but nil.  

GettyImages-546117316via Getty

Of course, the correlation between box office proceeds and the quality of the movie is esoteric or irrelevant to most viewers, who generally do not track or care about the financial progress of movies. The question for them is, is it a good movie? Honestly, reviews by critics and some AfterEllen readers have been mixed. That said, in my opinion, yes, Ghostbusters is a good movie. It’s full of laughs, it pays respectful homage to the original movie, and it must look positively fantastic in 3-D (I saw it in 2-D). More than that, it’s quietly subversively feminist, but not in a way that’s particularly obnoxious to anyone but viewers expecting the movie to be a piece of feminazi propaganda.

Bill Murray and Dan Aykroyd of the original Ghostbusters were Saturday Night Live alumni. The reboot does one better and has three past and present SNL stars: Kate McKinnon, Kristen Wiig and Leslie Jones. Added to this all-star cast is Melissa McCarthy, Hollywood’s reigning funny woman and multiple-time SNL guest star. There could hardly be a funnier female cast unless Rebel Wilson and Rose Byrne were also in it (sequel!!!), and the movie makes use of the talents of each of its four stars to maximize the humor. I’m calling it now that Suicide Squad is going to be Hollywood’s mega-hit of the summer, with Harley Quinn as Margot Robbie’s breakout role, but here are three reasons why I liked Ghostbusters:. 

Kate McKinnonGettyImages-546597126via Getty

I know. Everyone can’t get enough of Kate right now, but she did a good job, okay? Kate’s character, Jillian Holtzmann, who lesbians will recognize immediately as family, is hands down the most colorful of the four Ghostbusters: flamboyant, random, and vivacious. She also gets the best action sequence in the whole movie. Several reviews have claimed McKinnon “stole the show” in the movie, and this could be a launching point for Kate for a jump from the small screen to the big screen as McCarthy did after Bridesmaids. In an ideal world, Holtzmann would have a socially awkward twinsie girlfriend in the Ghostbusters sequel and the two would spend a quarter of the movie giggling at their science projects and blowing things up. 

Ghostbusters subtly mocks the sexism of Hollywood and societykevin-ghostbusters

Intentionally or unintentionally, Chris Hemsworth’s character Kevin seems to stand for many things in this film, and one of those things is society’s blind acceptance of male privilege. Kevin has the sublime confidence that he deserves everything he receives for no other reason than that he is himself. He is literally the hero of his own story. The women who are the heroes, like women in real life who watch others take credit for their achievements, can only shake their heads and watch it happen.

Kevin is also a subversive twist on the usual “sexy female” found in this type of film. In the original Ghostbusters, Sigourney Weaver stands in as the object of the male gaze, represented literally by Bill Murray’s Peter Venkman (when you think about it, Venkman was actually an unabashed creep). When Weaver’s character Dana Barrett is possessed by the demon Zuul, she transforms into a hypersexualized harlot who says to Venkman: “I want you inside me.” Subtle.

In this Ghostbusters, Kevin is the object of a “female gaze,” but the female gaze is purposely disrupted: Kevin’s attractiveness is undermined by his overwhelming dimwittedness. (Somewhat ironically, many reviewers have hailed Hemsworth’s performance as “scene stealing”…because of course a man has to be one of the best actors in a movie headlined by some of the most talented female comedians in the business.) If you like social commentary disguised as humor, you may like Kevin.     

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All four women stars are masters of improv, and it shows. Most of the best jokes are one-liners that may have been ad-libbed, but my personal favorite is a running gag about soup from the Chinese restaurant downstairs and the proper ratio of broth to wonton (a joke that rogerebert.com panned, so go figure). The movie wasn’t a constant howl fest, but then the original Ghostbusters wasn’t either. It all depends on your type of humor.

Based on the diversity of responses that critics and viewers have had to this movie, it seems like if you’re the type of person who found Spy and Bridesmaids funny, you’ll enjoy Ghostbusters. It’s less swear-word-laden than the former and less raunchy than the latter, but the same humor underlies both. If you didn’t like either of those movies, give this one a miss.