Opening this weekend:
Ghostbusters—Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, Kate McKinnon and Leslie Jones assume the title roles in this “reboot” of the 1984 slapstick-supernatural fave. Anticipation of the film has ranged from enthusiasm to hysterical outrage. Maybe because I liked but didn’t revere the original—full of favorites of mine, but not representing the greatest work of any of them—I went in with neither attitude, and was pleasantly surprised.
I’ve heard it theorized that the sexist fury over the distaff casting may have been exaggerated and harnessed to help market the film. That’s possible, I suppose—and admirable, if so—but I doubt that it was whole-cloth fabricated. About a decade and a half ago, I worked as a publicist for a comedy club, and I can attest that the wearying belief that “women aren’t funny,” at least not to the same degree as men, is genuinely held within the comedy world (Christopher Hitchens also notoriously forwarded the opinion).
This sensibility—comedy as a kind of machismo—may be shifting, however. With the possible exceptions of Kevin Hart and Seth Rogen, I can’t think of any male American comedy stars that are currently as reliably bankable in the movies as McCarthy and Wiig, and none that are more so. Somebody thinks these women are funny.
All of this, however, is of more sociological than cinematic interest. The new Ghostbusters, directed by Paul Feig, is no more a masterpiece than the old one, but it’s an engaging variation, hitting most of its iconic aspects—the New York setting, the hearse, Slimer, the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man and many cameos—while allowing the stars their own characterizations. Wiig is prim, McCarthy is brash, Jones is openhearted.
The wild card is the certifiable McKinnon, with her avid sidelong glances and her through-the-teeth tone of sly, conspiratorial intimacy. Also amusing is Chris Hemsworth as their brainless secretary; this male lead seems happy in the role of ditzy eye candy.
Equals—This sci-fi romance is set in a distant future in which everyone wears summery white and maintains a blandly polite, emotionless manner. It could be called Planet of the Cater-Waiters. Coworkers Nicholas Hoult and Kristen Stewart realize they're suffering from a dreaded condition called SOS—“Switched-On Syndrome"; possibly the movie’s wittiest gag—when they fall in love, and have to hide it. Eventually they find an underground of fellow “hiders,” that is, secretly emotional people.
Directed by Drake Doremus from a script by Nathan Parker, this cross between Romeo and Juliet and Brave New World seems slightly campy at first—a hushed, austere version of '70s dystopias like THX 1138 or ZPG or Zardoz or Rollerball or Logan's Run. But it gradually finds its own voice, gathers emotional force toward the end, and proves an ingenious gem.