On Ghostbusters and Why The Reboot Is A Gift

Published on September 23rd, 2016 in: Action Movies, Comedy, Feminism, Movies |

By Adele Wearing

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I want to talk about the new Ghostbusters movie, although what I have to say has little to do with the ghosts. I don’t even want to talk about how the film made me review my opinion of reboots in general, although it did.

What I want to talk about is female friendships and why Ghostbusters might be one of the most important films of the decade.

There are certain types of friendships we see in guy movies. There are buddy films where the two guys hate each other at first and then become besties, usually over the course of kicking criminal arse (see the Lethal Weapon, Rush Hour, and Bad Boys franchises, or go all the way back to Beverly Hills Cop). This was ably recreated by The Heat, which is a much smarter and better film than I anticipated.

We also see lots of films in which guys are friends (such as the kids in Stand by Me) who head off to adventure together, as well as the kids—almost always and almost exclusively male—in a billion other movies like The Goonies, Super 8, and Ruskies. We see guys presented as family even when they are undead and their bonding is over eating people (The Lost Boys), or killing everyone (Young Guns), or busting ghosts together (the original Ghostbusters).

Male relationships are presented in movies in a huge variety of ways, like, the father/mentor and father/son relationships represented in Star Wars and The Karate Kid. Sometimes they go well like Daniel-san. Sometimes they go to hell like, “Luke I am your father.” The point is that male relationships are shown in much of their very human complexity.

Female relationships in movies break down differently. Women are set up as competition for one another: over jobs, over men, over whatever… and that’s in their own movies, when they aren’t simply the prizes for men. Movies about women are generally about women not getting along, sometimes to extreme levels, (see Bride Wars and Fatal Attraction).

Even when they do come together, as in First Wives Club, they are featured as coming together and bonding over attributes that are not particularly pleasant. The women are shown as mostly pretty awful to start with and then they are shown as openly out to destroy their exes. Seriously, we may side with them because they are getting back at major douchebags, but it takes a friend’s suicide to bring them back together. If a single one of those men turned out to be a decent human being it would change the tone of the movie fast.

In Pretty Woman, our heroine is a prostitute and her big romantic win is to be a kept woman. It’s a great fun flick—a Cinderella fantasy—but only because you never meet Richard Gere’s wife. In My Best Friend’s Wedding, the lead sets out to break up her best mate and his fiancée because she suddenly realizes someone else might want him. This is not OK, people!

Female friendships in movies are tied to revenge, chaos, murder, or being the most popular girls in school, as shown in Heathers, The Craft, and Practical Magic, films in which women take their power and at times, abuse the hell out of it. I utterly adore these films, and watch them over and over, but these are not what I want my friendships to be like!

More recently, we had Mad Max: Fury Road, which was an epic, and very positive about women—about our power and autonomy—but it was a battle for all of the characters to survive, the friendships driven by the needs of the situation. It was an amazing and wonderful film, but Ghostbusters did something even Furiosa couldn’t. It gave me normal female friendships.

I mean, that shouldn’t be such a massive thing, should it? Yet, for all the movies I’ve watched over the years I cannot think of a single one where the relationships between a group of women were so normal. Take away the proton packs and the slime, and you have a bunch of women who don’t always get on perfectly but who care about each other and work together and have adventures. The adventures may be movie worthy, rather than the more run of the mill ones the rest of us have, but the relationships I could identify with. Watching it, I wanted to cry.

I loved so much about this film: it was fun, it touched nostalgia in just the right places, but it also had its own identity with Holtzmann. Those perfectly ordinary friendships, depicting women dancing to the radio, joking about whether they all agreed some guy was hot: dumb, ordinary stuff. That was everything.

The Heat, like I said earlier, is a good film. It’s a buddy movie with all the usual tropes, they just switch out the guy buddies for women. Mad Max delivers us feminine power in all its glory. Ghostbusters though, gives us the best version of normal female friendships that I’ve ever seen on the silver screen. My gods, we need to see more of those!

Adele Wearing is Commissioning Editor at Fox Spirit Books, home to fearless genre warriors and good storytelling.

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