Trailer: Ghostbusters (2016)
A new group of paranormal experts are on the case of a slimy demon threatening New York City.
March 4, 2016
Kristen Wiig sighs and slumps in her chair. Melissa McCarthy rolls her eyes.
It’s the gender question. Again.
“Are we still talking about that?” McCarthy complains.
Under attack: Ghostbusters‘ Patty Tolan (Leslie Jones), Abby Yates (Melissa McCarthy), Erin Gilbert (Kristen Wiig) and Jillian Holtzmann (Kate McKinnon). Photo: Hopper Stone
In the 2016 reboot, all the Ghostbusters are women. And everyone has an opinion.
Ever since the project was announced, the over-entitled fanboys of the internet have teamed up with their fellow misogynist cybertravellers to hurl abuse and howl at the skies over (ironically) a man’s decision, which he made two years ago when he was out for a morning walk.
That man is Paul Feig, director of the new Ghostbusters movie.
Feig, the director behind the TV show Freaks and Geeks and the film Bridesmaids, had turned down invitations several times to direct a remake, or reboot, or sequel, of the ’80s comedy classic.
He didn’t like the scripts which had been commissioned over the years from some talented writers: he felt they were funny but always stumbled and fell somehow.
Then he went out to lunch with Amy Pascal, then head of Sony (before the infamous Sony email hack).
Ghostbusters director Paul Feig gets to grips with one of the film’s proton blasters.
“She said, ‘OK I’ve got to ask you, why won’t any of you comedy guys do Ghostbusters?’,” Feig recalls. “I said, ‘Because it’s a classic, we don’t want to touch it, blah blah blah’.
“And she said, ‘Here’s the thing, it’s this giant property, this amazing franchise, this amazing idea that’s been sitting there and no one’s touching it’.”
It was producer talk, but Feig left the meeting feeling Pascal was right: that there was something in Ghostbusters beyond the two original movies, a seam still glinting with comedy gold.
The next day he went for a walk, his usual morning wander around the neighbourhood that he takes to clear his head and kickstart his ideas.
“And it just became crystal clear to me how to do it,” he says. “It was this weird epiphany.”
He clicks his fingers.
“Wait, if I could use all the funny women I know in this – I know how to do that. I could reboot it, start it afresh. That was the inspiration moment … this creative explosion. I remember going, ‘Ah,’ so happy that I figured it out.”
Feig, a charmingly dapper, Saville-row-suited man who sports a neat pocket handkerchief, is, oddly, one of the driving forces for women in Hollywood comedy.
Bridesmaids, also with Wiig and McCarthy, tore up the industry’s rule book on how comedy audiences work. It was “supposed” to be a women’s movie, and men wanted to see it, too, and did, in droves.
While it’s now accepted that women comedians can light up a box office just as well as the guys, the resistance to Ghostbusters has been something else. As Feig put it last year: “Geek culture is home to some of the biggest assholes I’ve ever met in my life.”
The movie trailer became the most “disliked” preview on YouTube, with hundreds of thousands clicking the thumbs-down button. “Fans” said they were objecting to the plague of reboots, to the danger of traducing the memory of a comedy classic. But underneath it all, many were just, for some reason, furious the cast were female.
Feig says he feels like he was “stomping on a toy pile” or breaking into a “no-girls-allowed clubhouse”.
He understands people who don’t like his previous movies objecting to his moving into the franchise. And he is sympathetic to people who feel he’s ruining a part of their childhood – or rather “I would be sympathetic to that if there wasn’t all the misogyny involved with it … you’ve seen the tweets, [they] were terrible and there’s tonnes of them.
“It was very painful. It was upsetting because I feel with my movies I’ve been trying to push people past that – and I thought I had a little bit.
“If you’ve got that major issue with women, that’s your problem, you’ve got to get therapy.”
Erin (Kristen Wiig) talks to Abby (Melissa McCarthy) and Holtzmann (Kate McKinnon) at the Paranormal Studies Lab at the Higgin’s Institute in Ghostbusters.
Meanwhile, he says, test audiences were lapping it up, men and women. He knew his movie was working, and “that kind of gets you through”.
“I want to break down this wall, I don’t want people to look at it like it’s a men’s movie or a ladies’ movie, they should just go, ‘Oh these people are funny’,” he says.
But, says Wiig, resigned: “There’s still a long ways to go, so I guess we’ll be talking about it until then”.
McCarthy says the backlash against the movie was “bizarre”. By day they were working on one of the happiest sets she has been on, she says. Feig’s collaborative, improvisational style made for daily laughs – “people were not ruled by their ego and open to everyone’s good ideas – and wonderful things happen”.
And then they began to be aware of the reaction.
“It’s bizarre … it’s shocking,” says McCarthy, who plays paranormal researcher Abby Yates, alongside Wiig’s quantum physicist Erin Gilbert, Kate McKinnon’s nuclear engineer Jillian Holtzmann and Leslie Jones’ ghost tracker Patty Tolan.
Wiig agrees. “How can you not be insulted by people making ridiculous remarks? But you really can’t take it to heart. It’s sad that people still feel that way in this day and age, and it’s disappointing, but you just have to feel sorry for them and move on.”
McCarthy says it makes her sad, and she worries about people that are “just hate-driven … maybe I should be mad at them but instead I feel really sad for them”.
McCarthy says she never felt the film was trying to push an agenda or make a calculated point, “it was just like these four [characters] seem fun together and they happen to be women. There’s nothing in the script where we’re like ‘as women Ghostbusters…’.”
The Ghostbusters “kick ass”.
Wiig is a little prickly about it. Asked if she felt it was something to celebrate, that a big summer movie ended with a huge action scene starring four women, she replied, “Have you ever asked four guys if it was cool to be in a fight in a movie? What’s the point?
“Of course it sends a good message, it’s powerful, it feels good. I hope we get to the point where we don’t have to talk about it.”
And she appreciates the fact that women can “kick ass” without being sexualised.
“We’re wearing not-attractive jumpsuits. We’re not in spandex,” she says.
“Most comfortable I’ve ever been on set,” adds McCarthy.
Gender politics aside, they’re both also keen to defend the movie against being lumped among the current plague of remakes and reboots.
“We only made one,” McCarthy says, almost plaintively. “You can’t group them together. It still comes down to, in the end, is that particular film good and compelling? Did you love the characters?”
McCarthy says there are “certain things I love so much that I think [they] are done perfectly, and you go, ‘Wonderful, I wouldn’t touch it. You wouldn’t say, ‘I should re-paint that Matisse’.”
But, says Wiig: “People have to just give them a chance. You can’t pre-judge something because you don’t think it’s a good idea – these are all movies that you may really love.”
Ghostbusters is released July 14.