A COMMON MISTAKE

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My Contribution To A Regrettable Pop Culture Attention Grab

Obligatory updates: Edit is done on Cyberpunk Trashcan. Cover is in progress. Few weeks, hopefully. Probably going to Northwest Comic Fest. Larger updates on all that a bit later.

I really tried, you know? I tried to not say anything about the new Ghostbusters movie because, frankly, I really don’t care about it. I like Ghostbusters and reboots do not harm the original work. At least, so far, none has ever managed to do that. Same for sequels. No one hates Star Wars for the prequels, no one hates Terminator for everything after Judgement Day. They are all terrible films, but they don’t hurt anything if we’re being honest. I understand the anger though. Those movies mark an end of hope for many people. Transformers marked the end of hope for people with strong childhood memories of the cartoon (which was bad as a piece of artistic work, and vapid, and pointless, but fun). It cuts off the hope that you will get to re-live a feeling you had as a child or that there will be MORE of a thing you love.

Star Wars Episode VII found a way around this. That was respecting the fans and understanding what made the original so popular. Hilariously, what many people don’t seem to get is NOW, Abrams and Co. have a clean slate to make whatever they want going forward. They can break from the tradition a little. They’ll still have to keep the feel right, but Abrams is unlikely to fail at making major blockbuster crowd-pleasers. But that’s the gist of it.

Now, to the new Ghostbusters. This is a film that, when faced with an unhappy core audience, everyone involved seemed to double down on insulting that audience and then being shocked that, when you throw shit at millions of people online, SOME OF THEM ARE RUDE. Crazy. But that’s not even my problem with the film. Art is art and artists are artists. The artist is responsible for their own actions, but the art is responsible to no one and nothing. It only exists as its own thing. Some people disagree on this, but that’s another blog post, probably.

So Ghostbusters. The new one. I can’t remember a film I’ve watched recently that seemed so uncomfortable with itself and that was really the core of my complaints about the overall. I have dozens of specific complaints about it, but those will come out over the course of this.

To expound on what I mean about the movie not feeling comfortable with itself is that it falls into the trap of so many comedies that are lazily improvisational. There’s never a quiet moment. Never anything character establishing. And under the weight of all that, you see a plot that does little else but get in the way of improvised attempts at comedy. There’s a reason the most successful Judd Apatow movies (which this is, but with Paul Feig and lazy vagina jokes where lazy dick jokes would have been) work is because the premise is loose, simple, and comedic at a baseline. Or at the very least, they are not LARGE ideas. Dealing with a stranger’s pregnancy, teenagers trying to get drunk, an old guy who is a virgin. This leaves plenty of time where it makes sense to have characters sitting around riffing. The comedy does not need to have a purpose. It’s casual conversation that can be funny. Or riffing on a situation. This is why Bridemaids works and, I feel, The Heat does not.

The problem Ghostbusters at large finds itself facing is that the comedy is now largely situationally driven. Or should be. The situation should be funny. Not the comments about the situation. The riffing becomes mugging when the situation demands a character’s attention but they just keep making funny sounds and subverting the events around them. That is something the original never does, though it has some odd scenes here and there. The ghosts are given respect as a real part of the world. What they’re doing is played straight. This has become an ironic necessity in comedy lately. A character, without fail, has to stop and going “WOWEE! This situation is ridiculous.” and then basically wink at the camera. We know they know it’s so wacky. So peril is removed. Concern is removed. The depth of the comedy is removed. The characters become an MST3K riff track with us being their audience. So no one takes the film seriously and then, when the film requires that of them, it just feels uncomfortable. I haven’t seen this mentioned in any of the reviews I’ve seen so far, but for me it was what really answers the core of the writing problems with the movie. As much as was improvised in the original, the bulk of it was in service of the scene rather than compromising the pacing of it. How much of that was Reitman and how much was Ramis and how much was the actors, I couldn’t know for sure. But that brings me neatly to my next complaint.

There seemed to be absolutely no direction in this film. Looking at other Paul Feig films, this shows itself to be a bit of an obvious dig. Bridesmaids works because it is a vehicle for comedic actresses to be comedic. That’s all they need to do. When structure is added in for a movie like Heat, things start to turn to mugging. The looseness of a bad script starts to impact the flow of the underlying plot as room is made for joke scenes. You compare that to even a movie like Bad Boys and you see the problems. Melissa McCarthy is FULLY CAPABLE of emotional depth. She is an amazing comedic actress and when put across from even the best in the game in non Feig films, she contributes more than her fair share without overstepping or mugging. Heat is an example of how horrible Feig is at using talent properly. It’s loose and watching behind the scenes videos shows him for what he is: A man desperate to make friends with the actors and actresses working under him. He coos at them and compliments them. He has no quality standard because he desperately wants to prove he’s not like those other directors. He’s not meanie. Please like him.

I place the absolutely abysmal performances of Kate McKinnon and Leslie Jones on his head. I really do. I can’t think of a time I’ve ever seen Leslie Jones be funny on SNL, but people keep saying she’s capable of it. I think they are being kind. She is responsible for easily one of the worst skits I’ve ever seen on television (opposite Chris Rock), but I believe that a better director could have gotten some really solid work out of her, even with this terrible script. Sadly, she seems capable of big and nothing else. That’s something that is Kate McKinnon’s problem as well. She’s capable of subtle, but her natural energy makes her wants to mug. It makes her want to play big. Her natural style is broad and physical. That’s fine in some spots. Here, she runs roughshod over the rest of the cast any time she’s allowed in front of the camera. Rather than discourage this for sake of the film, I get the feeling that Paul Feig giggled delight every time she overplayed a scene. I won’t take it as a given that you think those performances were bad. Some people liked those two characters the most. I understand it. They were fantastic distractions from the terrible plot. And were most often used to advance the story. So, big energy, plot service. The only characters in the film offering things the film seemed to insist it was made of.

Wiig and McCarthy deliver decently subdued performances with admittedly little to work with and Feig likely giving them nothing. Jones… well… she sounds like she’s reading literally everything from cue cards. I don’t think I’ve seen worse acting in a long, long time. Maybe in a Fast and Furious movie. McKinnon needs a wrangler. She is off the walls like a desperate, awkward teenager at every chance. This could have worked, but it wasn’t part of the character as written as near as I could tell. She made that character choice and no one told her to rope it in. So it ends up too big and too out of pace with everything around her. Which, like I said, is likely why people like her character. She’s the only thing in the movie that’s not languishing through.

Fourteen hundred words. Okay. Let me stop this now before I write way too much.

For a movie that is being dragged around as having everything to do with women, I find it hilarious that the sole cause of it being such an irredeemable pile of trash is the one male who was in charge of literally ever aspect of the fucking thing. How has that not been the focus? I do not thing Kate McKinnon will ever be a blockbuster actress, comedy or otherwise. But she could work if someone stop letting her pretend a major summer film was an improv class where there are no wrong answers. Leslie Jones needs to be forced to deliver her lines properly. She has loud black woman syndrome, and that’s fine. It’s fine. But she cannot be allowed to ONLY DO THAT WELL. She needs to act. Not just barely read lines in coherent sentences and then scream. And I think that’s why people imagine she was the most grounded character. She’s a plot advancer, so she gets all the work lines. She should at least have been directed to deliver them well.

Paul Feig is responsible for this mess. Wholly. He wrote it, he directed it. I put its failings squarely on his head.  He should have wrangled McKinnon and gotten a more subtle performance out of her. He should have held Leslie Jones to a quality standard higher than back-patting friend. He should have written a script that was not a blatant outlet for his hatred of men and his perception of male bonding and his own self-loathing. He’s been open about it that angle and it’s clearly compromising his work. If he can and wants to make woman-pleasing comedies that happen to have crossover appeal, fine. Tapping him for a broad-appeal comedy for a massive summer release… well, probably not a solid investment.

That’s it. I probably missed some points I should touch on, but that’s fine. I don’t care to talk about Hemsworth being Paul Feig’s revenge porn. That shit stands out on its own. It’s been discussed.

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