Fangirl Friday: Ghostbusters. Because Kate freaking McKinnon

Hi, everybody! Welcome back to another Fangirl Friday. Thanks so much for showing so much luv to Fangirl Shirts last week. That’s a company we can all fangirl over, hopefully for years to come.

This week, I decided to do a bit of fangirling over Ghostbusters 2016 in honor of Halloween. I KNOW, it’s not your typical Halloween flick, but there are lots of people dressing up as Ghostbusters this year, and it’s a fun, festive, ghost-ridden movie with grrlpower everywhere. I’ve seen several things on social media showing young girls AND boys dressing up as Ghostbusters characters from the 2016 reboot which…I gotta tell you. It warms my heart that young boys want to represent strong female characters at Halloween and that young girls have strong women to emulate in cosplay.

Anyway, let’s get to it!

I’m old enough to remember the original Ghostbusters (1984; I was in high school SHUT UP), and I actually watched it recently after seeing the reboot. I loved it in 1984, but knew even then that it was a boys’ club and the main female character — Sigourney Weaver — was part of that sort of “damsel in distress” character, though Gozer (Slavitza Jovan) had some cool magical (albeit evil) strength going on.

Original Ghostbusters. From left: Egon (the late Harold Ramis); Winston (Ernie Hudson); Venkman (Bill Murray); Raymond (Dan Akroyd)
Original Ghostbusters. From left: Egon (the late Harold Ramis); Winston (Ernie Hudson); Venkman (Bill Murray); Raymond (Dan Akroyd)

But Ghostbusters spoke to my geekgirl soul because I love the whole idea of ghost-hunting, which is basically what they were doing, in big ol’ technicolor glory, with ghosts that actually interacted with them.

Fast-forward a few decades (jeeziz gawd). Rumors started swirling that a reboot was in the works, featuring women in the four main roles. I started monitoring that situation, really intrigued because if it was true, I wanted to know who the new crew was going to be. When word finally got out, I was so on board that I was already sailing.

New crew! From left: Abby (Melissa McCarthy); Erin (Kristen Wiig); Patty (Leslie Jones); Holtzmann (Kate McKinnon)
New crew! From left: Abby (Melissa McCarthy); Erin (Kristen Wiig); Patty (Leslie Jones); Holtzmann (Kate McKinnon)

In the 2016 version, the movie starts with a paranormal incident in a historic house, and that ties into the next scenes. We then move on to Erin, who is a physics professor at Columbia University trying to get tenure until the dean finds out that she worked in the past with Abby, her estranged friend and paranormal researcher currently using lab space at a technical college. They published a book about paranormal activity together — a book that Erin thought and hoped was no longer available, but she finds it on Amazon. Horrified, she goes to tell Abby to take the book off Amazon and finds her in this lab with the wildly eccentric nuclear engineer, Holtzmann. The trio end up going to check out the historic house incident and they make contact with an entity and BOOM Erin is suddenly convinced all over again about paranormal activity.

Kevin, the dim but endearing bulb.
Kevin, the dim but endearing bulb.

Which of course gets her booted from Columbia but now she, Abby, and Holtzmann are ready to hang out their shingle as paranormal researchers. They’re soon joined by the ridiculously strange and somewhat dim Kevin (Chris Hemsworth, clearly enjoying himself in the role) as the office assistant and a former MTA worker and historian of Manhattan, Patty, who becomes the 4th official ‘buster. Soon, they find out that paranormal occurrences are on the rise, and they’re tied to a strange and vindictive loner (Rowan; Paul Feig) who seeks to flood Manhattan with spirits. And not the delicious drinkable kind.

I am here to creep you out with my entitled little kernel of a soul...
I am here to creep you out with my entitled little kernel of a soul…

Rowan is the quintessential creepy weird dude who rages because he’s not getting what he feels he’s entitled to. He doesn’t date, he’s resentful of everything and everybody, and decides he’s going to transform his city and himself (you’ll see if you watch the movie) into forces of destruction as “payback” for all the inadequacies heaped on his psyche. You can probably spend hours deconstructing this and his problems with women, but let’s move on, shall we?

So let me tell you some of the reasons I loved this movie:

  • Power cast. These are 4 supremely talented and hilarious women on the acting and comedy circuits, and the chemistry between them all was amazing. Dialogue and scenes were often ad-libbed, is my understanding — and how could it not be, given these four?
  • Great characterization. This speaks to the first reason, above, but it also speaks to the script, which allowed the actors room to ad-lib and throw one-liners around and really inhabit their characters.
  • The characters weren’t belittled or “little girled,” which is a term I use to describe when women are patronized and marginalized. Three of the main characters work in science-related fields and one is a historian with extensive knowledge of local lore and locations. They all work together and each brings something different to the table.
  • Fun. The dialogue was laugh-out-loud funny and the movie included cameos from the original Ghostbusters (even the late Harold Ramis was represented as a bust in a hallway at Columbia).
  • The bonds that developed between the female characters were based on mutual respect and affection, and they all supported each other. And they brought dim Kevin in, as well, though toward the end, he started becoming kind of an asshat. Hopefully if there’s a sequel and he’s in it, they’ll rein that in.
  • Kate McKinnon.
  • Did I say Kate McKinnon?
  • Seriously. Kate McKinnon.

The number one reason that I loved this movie was watching Kate McKinnon steal it. And not in a crass, show-you-up kind of way. She did it through the sheer brilliance of Jillian Holtzmann, the weird, wacky, wildly kooky scientist who often dressed slightly masculine steampunkish and rakishly flirted with Erin.

See? Did I tell you? There is some swoonage to be had in the movie. source
See? Did I tell you? There is some swoonage to be had in the movie. source

That’s right. Holtzmann coded as lesbian/queer throughout this film though it wasn’t expressly stated. Her sly winks and verbal digs (including a lip sync to DeBarge) at Erin and her dapper dude dressing style (not that that automatically makes you lesbian or genderqueer, mind you) just screamed to all of us in the audience who resonate with these kinds of visual and audio codes, and who identify with them. Plus her swagger, her love for and fascination with power tools, and of course THE WINK she throws at Erin:

So we’ve got strong women characters working together, supporting each other, kicking ghostly ass, a fun plot with often devastatingly witty dialogue. Oh, and we’ve got a character subtexting from the land of lesbiana.

This movie made me laugh out loud and cheer at the awesomeness of grrlpower everywhere. But there’s one scene in particular that shook my foundations, and it really kind of caught me off guard with how deeply it spoke to me because it’s not the kind of scene that you would think would necessarily push the kinds of emotional buttons that it did.

The scene happens toward the end of the movie. Holtzmann is battling a shit-ton of ghosts in the streets of Manhattan. She basically opens a can of whup-ass on these ghosts, and the camera shows her — just her — doing this with bad-ass moves and ghost-bustin’ laser beams and my entire freaking heart opened up with the sheer audacity and power of this moment — the sight of a woman just throwing down like that, even in a goofy summer blockbuster film.

Sady Doyle over at In These Times nails it:

There’s a scene, late in the movie, with Kate McKinnon, that made me feel like I’ve never felt at a movie before.
[…]
I should confess: Some of this is personal. My favorite character, in any big action-ensemble movie, is always the demolitions guy: the mad scientist, the weapons expert, the damage-dealer, the one who just wants to see stuff blow up. I say “demolitions guy” because he’s always a guy; they never cast the mad scientist or gun nut as a woman. But in this movie, he’s Kate McKinnon.

So she gets the scene these guys always get, in a movie like this. She has a wonderful new toy. The film slows down. She starts moving, and sure enough, she just starts unleashing raw havoc everywhere.

Something in my chest opened up. This is it, I realized. This is the thing I never got to see before. The scene where the demolitions guy is a girl. I was right: It actually does feel different when it’s a girl. This must be how guys feel every time they watch one of these movies. This is it, the version that’s for me, the scene I always wanted, and it’s here.

I don’t know what that feeling was, or how to describe it. But here’s the best way I can: For all the talk about “childhoods,” I got exactly 30 seconds in that movie where I felt like I was 8 years old again. Except that it was better than being 8 years old. It was like being 8 years old would have been, if the world had been fair.

YES. YES TO ALL OF THAT. THAT was the stuff I never got to see as a kid in movies because women didn’t often do them. I can’t describe the feeling, either. All I know is when that scene came on, I wanted to laugh and cry and whoop with joy and pump my fists and high-five everybody in the theater at that scene, and it was like being a kid again, and being able to revel in the fact that a woman was throwing down and kicking ass. How amazing that would have been, to be a girl of 8 again and see that image on the screen and realize that you, too, could be a wacky scientist with mad badassery to boot.

Holtzmann makes it all right to be weird, all right to be smart, all right to be off-kilter and different in all kinds of ways — everything that girls are told it’s not okay to be. All our damn lives, we’re given these messages, and we carry that baggage throughout.

Well, Ghostbusters made it a-okay to be who we are, and to kick ass and have fun doing it. So though it’s not necessarily a scarefest, it’s a great Halloween-ish romp with some really excellent messages underneath the ghostbusting.

And this, my friends, is THAT SCENE. It’s a spoiler, so if you haven’t seen the movie, I’d recommend refraining. Plus, it helps to see the film and get the context of the characters and story to really FEEL this scene. But if you have seen the movie and you want to re-live THE SCENE, here it is (with foreign language subtitles, but they don’t get in the way).

(link, in case something freaky happens here at WordPress)

Happy Halloween, Happy Holtzmanning, and may the Force be with you.

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7 thoughts on “Fangirl Friday: Ghostbusters. Because Kate freaking McKinnon

  1. We had Trick or Treat here last night. My wife and I had just bought the DVD and watched it so the movie was still very fresh in my mind when 4 late tweens/early teenage girls came up in Ghostbusters costumes. They were the only ones in my little village that tried to be the Ghostbusters themselves and they looked awesome. I complimented them and their parents and gave them triple candy.

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  2. We took my nieces to see the movie when it opened and I have never been so glad to take them to see a movie, not even The Force Awakens. This movie made all the women smart, even Patty who is not a scientist is a total bookworm and NYC history buff, and didn’t try to make them objects of male sexual fantasies. It’s one of the few movies we’ve been able to take them to see that showed you can be smart and successful by being your awesome, kooky self.

    That Holtzmann scene is probably the best thing I’ve seen in a movie, ever. I fell in love with Holtzmann as a character from the moment she first appeared on screen and with all the awesome scenes that I loved, it was her kicking ass in that scene that won me over for good. The first thing I did when we got back from the movie was go on Amazon and order the Holtzmann Funko Pop! and the soundtrack because it’s a pretty awesome soundtrack.

    I don’t think I could love this movie more and I’m very disappointed that the sexist, misogynist, whiny, butt-hurt fanboys of the original managed to tank this movie without even giving it a fair shot. Between that and the nasty sexual comments about McKinnon and the online harassment/bullying of Leslie Jones has been horrible and made me really glad that Tumblr has made it easy to find fans of this movie and mostly avoid the haters.

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  3. Except it’s not really about that, about gracefulness or physical prowess. It’s about what Sady Doyle said, as quoted above:

    “Something in my chest opened up. This is it, I realized. This is the thing I never got to see before. The scene where the demolitions guy is a girl. I was right: It actually does feel different when it’s a girl. This must be how guys feel every time they watch one of these movies. This is it, the version that’s for me, the scene I always wanted, and it’s here.”

    It’s about something much, much deeper than simply appreciating someone’s physical skill. Especially since Holtzmann wasn’t any kind of martial arts expert. She was just Holtzmann, who used some things that she designed to take out a bunch of ghosts.

    It’s the same feeling I had when I watched “Aliens” the first time. Sigourney Weaver’s character isn’t any kind of professionally trained fighter, but when she’s going down into the atmospheric plant to rescue Newt, and she’s gearing up for it, and getting her weaponry ready on the elevator, then takes her stance locked and loaded, it’s THAT feeling. And it’s the feeling you get when Ripley gets into the loader and is going to battle it out with the alien. The sense of claiming her power. Not, “oh, wow, this is a really beautiful kind of dance/fight.” No, it’s the realization that here is a woman claiming her power, who sees what needs to be done and then does it. Sure, if there’s gracefulness involved, then you can appreciate that and Holtzmann’s fight scene had great choreography, but that’s not what makes you get all choked up. It’s so much deeper than that.

    You expect Sarah Lance to kick ass. It’s what she does. But neither Holtzmann or Ripley are those kinds of characters. They’re not trained in anything. They’re not experts at fighting. But they step up and do it and it’s messy and sloppy and heartfelt and glorious because they’re everywoman doing something unexpected but necessary and it comes from a place that we all carry — that hope that if shit hits the fan, we as everywomen can step up like that and do something amazing. It may not be pretty, it may involve pain, but it’s something we all hope we can do. And seeing women “like us” in that regard — who don’t have superpowers or special skills for fighting — makes it all the more awesome in terms of representation on the screen.

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  4. After I saw this movie I came home and told my 4 year old granddaughter about it, and I kept talking about how all the Ghostbusters were girls. “Grandma,” she told me, “Boys can be Ghostbusters too, if they really want to.”
    It made me so happy to know she’s growing up in a world where boys can do what girls do, if only they work hard enough!!
    And yes of course I took her and my daughter to see the film the next day!

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