Cyndi Lauper said it best: Girls just want to have fun. The new Ghostbusters film, starring a quartet of funny women, reminds its viewers at every turn exactly how hard it can be for women to have their fun — all while saving New York City's collective butt from ghosts.
Ghostbusters espouses that there are two separate planes: the world of the living and that of the dead. Similarly, Ghostbusters as a film exists on two levels. On the one hand, it's a light summer action-horror-comedy about a group of friends who bond through fighting the undead. On the other, the film is also a meta commentary about the many roadblocks that women face in a world that aims to delegitimize them at every turn. In other words: Ghostbusters is a movie about being a woman on the internet.
Online commenters criticized the film as early reports of casting crawled in, and the movie does not exist separate from that criticism — in fact, it often speaks back to it. Early in the film, when the women post a video of their first ghost encounter, Kristen Wiig's character reads the comments section — one of several times the film references "the comments" — where one commenter wrote, "Ain't no bitches gonna hunt no ghosts."
Rather than ignoring the haters, this movie claps back at them. But the comments section is not the only place the women find opposition in their quest to be taken seriously. The core quartet face off against a litany of men who presume them incompetent.
Though Wiig's character is a brilliant scientist whom the dean considers an asset to Columbia University's physics department, he forces her to jump through hoops to secure tenure, only to snatch it away when he learns she believes in ghosts. There's the dean of Melissa McCarthy's college, who defunds their ghost-hunting efforts. There's the mayor of New York City, who works to smear their name in public even though he knows they're right — and his assistant (played by Cecily Strong), who paints the foursome as "incredible sad and lonely women." There's the ghost debunker (a flat cameo from former Ghostbuster Bill Murray) who asks Wiig, "Why are you pretending to catch ghosts?"
Aside from the misogynistic tone many male characters take when talking to the film's protagonists, the script also tucks in pockets of highly misogynistic language. Rather than addressing them by name or calling them "women," each of the men they encounter addresses the Ghostbusters as "little ladies" or "girls." The film manages to navigate remaining a comedy while conveying the sadness and frustration of sexism in the workplace because men in power refuse to recognize that the foursome are, in fact, right all along.
The movie's most direct commentary on misogyny is in its villain, who is a walking embodiment of the darkest corners of men's-rights-activist Reddit. An emotionally damaged loner who grumbles about being "bullied" and constantly "rewarded with scorn and mockery" for his hard work, his entire plan is born out of vengeance for being disinherited from greatness. In a delicious moment, the women defeat him in ghost form with an electromagnetic zap to his testicles.
But the film does not merely pay cheeky lip service to girl power — it embodies it. When McKinnon delivers an emotionally charged, totally deadpan speech about the importance of friendship in the film's final moments, the movie becomes less of a story about defeating ghosts and more one about forming an alternate family. While each of the others is a scientist interested in ghosts, Leslie Jones plays an MTA employee who leaves her job security and gives her all to see the Ghostbusters succeed. And Wiig and McCarthy's once-strained friendship acts as the film's emotional core and its climax.
While the film's protagonists fight ghosts, the film overall fights against the internet's disembodied voices by giving them corporeal form. True, Ghostbusters may not make much headway against abating internet misogyny in the long run. But boy, does it delight in giving it a pot shot to the balls.