'Ghostbusters' is more than an exercise of affirmative action 

To hell with the haters.

click to enlarge THE NEW GUARD: Kristen Wiig, Kate McKinnon, Melissa McCarthy and Leslie Jonese avert a supernatural apocalypse in "Ghostbusters."
  • THE NEW GUARD: Kristen Wiig, Kate McKinnon, Melissa McCarthy and Leslie Jonese avert a supernatural apocalypse in "Ghostbusters."

I checked and rechecked all the local movie listings several times before finally giving my wife the bad news: "I'm afraid that the 'Absolutely Fabulous' movie isn't coming here its opening weekend."

"Awww," she groaned. "I really wanted to watch a group of independent women wreak havoc on a major metropolitan area. What are we going to do instead?"

Well, if you just pretend that everyone has an English accent, then "Ghostbusters" will serve as a good AbFab substitute in a pinch. Kristen Wiig plays Dr. Erin Gilbert, the Saffron character of the bunch — intelligent, responsible, but easily sucked into chaos. As a physicist up for tenure at Columbia University, she is horrified to discover that an old friend has brought back into print a book on paranormal happenings they co-wrote long ago (and which Dr. Gilbert now disavows in her quest for respectability). So she goes to confront said friend, Dr. Abby Yates (Melissa McCarthy, our movie's equivalent of Edina) and her colleague Dr. Jillian Holtzman (Kate McKinnon, an agent of chaos along the lines of AbFab's Patsy). They drag Erin along to investigate an old mansion, where she is puked upon by the specter of an old murderess, because no one ever tires of references to "The Exorcist."

After being filmed talking about ghosts, Erin loses her tenure-track position, and so our trio takes the small-business route and sets up a ghost-busting enterprise above a Chinese takeout restaurant. They hire beefcake Kevin Beckman (Chris Hemsworth) as their secretary and are soon joined by Patty Tolan (Leslie Jones), a transit worker with an invaluably encyclopedic knowledge of the geography and history of New York City. (While it's still disappointing that the one black character is also the one nonscientist, Jones' Patty is much more well-rounded than the trailer had implied.) Together, the four women uncover a plot by quiet loner Rowan North (Neil Casey) to enact his revenge upon the world by opening a portal between our reality and the "other side," thus causing the apocalypse. By this point, any parallels with "Absolutely Fabulous" have rather crumbled, though the men are alternately ogled and defeated, while our heroines escape relatively unscathed.

In 1428, the Roman Catholic Church, in a typically petty act, ordered the corpse of John Wycliffe exhumed and burned for heresy, his crime in life having been the translation of the Bible into English. In similar vein, there has been a contingent of men who believe that the precious, holy "original" 1984 movie about men who hunt ghosts with laser guns must remain forever inviolate, never to be updated for modern audiences, especially not with the genders of the main characters changed up in any way. Those people have famously taken to various online forums to espouse their own retrograde views, even temporarily driving actress Leslie Jones from Twitter with a tirade of racist abuse.

To hell with those guys. When we exited the theater, my wife was literally dancing about, inspired by a movie that centered upon women without making them princesses or damsels — which is a cogent argument for the value of including diverse people and perspectives in the media we consume. But this movie is more than an exercise of affirmative action — despite how the haters might feel, this updated, gender-reversed "Ghostbusters" manages to meet head-on the burden of three decades' worth of expectations and mythologizing. It's a silly story, yes, but so was the original. Moreover, the cast, as a whole, exhibits a perfect sense of comedic timing, from Melissa McCarthy's excoriations of her Chinese takeout delivery guy to Leslie Jones' public service shtick as she deals with one particular crazy subway rider. And Chris Hemsworth so thoroughly embodies the male equivalent of the blonde bimbo that just seeing him pop into frame is enough to produce giggles of anticipation.

"Ghostbusters" is a fun summer film, but the experience of seeing it with a loved one who relished these images of powerful, competent women at the center of their own stories — well, that was absolutely fabulous.


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