THB #29: Busting Makes Me Feel Bad


There is nothing wrong with Ghostbusters: Afterlife that a page one rewrite wouldn’t solve.

There are so many things that can go wrong with a movie. It’s fairly rare when the actual conceit that drives the picture is the problem. The other recent movies that I would put in this category are The Last Duel and The Eyes of Tammy Faye. And the problem is also there, in part, for House of Gucci.

In the case of The Last Duel, the idea of telling the story of a rape amongst the affluent and somewhat affluent in medieval France is truly interesting, but the idea of offering it from 3 perspectives is only worth making as a movie with perspectives that each offer something truly different in the repetition. That was not achieved, in great part because, clearly, no one wanted to write something ugly enough to truly blame the woman. And I agree with that... but you gotta not make the movie because it gets reduced to the exercise of filmmaking. Great director, great actors, great production… but ultimately, it neither challenges the audience or takes us somewhere unexpected.

In The Eyes of Tammy Faye, the great documentary is probably at fault for a script that simply tries to do too much. There are very few biopics in the world that work from youth to death. The drama gets lost. Again, the performances and production were there… but the script didn’t help them fly.

In House of Gucci, there is so much great stuff… but an oddly incoherent storytelling. I was good with laying out all the characters through Act One and establishing the core relationship between Gaga and Adam Driver. But as one of those leads makes a huge turn of perspective, the movie doesn’t fully change gears to take us to the big ending (or the big endings). Again, great acting (could easily be 2 nominations or more and maybe a winner), a great director, and a beautiful production. But a little broken. (In this season, it may still get nominated for Best Picture… we’ll see.)

Which brings us back to Ghostbusters: Afterlife.

What the hell were these very smart and skilled filmmakers thinking? In a movie just over 2 hours long, they spend almost 90 full minutes before getting to the Ghostbusters part of the movie as anything but a reference.

I like Egon’s grandkids. And if you think that’s a spoiler because you don’t instantly recognize the origin of Phoebe’s John Lennon glasses and science edge, sorry, you must not have watched the original. That’s not the problem.

I have noticed in the last weeks that the marketing for the movie leans away from the humor. Seeing the film, the effort to be funny is there. It’s just not very funny. And it’s not really about something bigger. Bringing Egon’s daughter and grandchildren back into his circle posthumously after he pushed them away many years before, yes. But ultimately, it turns into a Ghostbusters movie and one that really makes no sense at all.

I’m sorry, but tagging on The End of The World onto a warm family coming-of-age comedy is a terrible, terrible idea and only someone who truly makes magic could have done it. Jason Reitman and Gil Kenan are professionals with skills. But you can almost hear the conversations and how exposing each fan-servicing beat was a thrill. But didn’t anyone notice that the movie was half over before the ghostbusting idea really came into play and that there was nothing at all supporting the sudden insight into the driving, the equipment, the rules of ghostbusting, etc.?

An example that you already know from the trailers and ads are the Stay-Puft marshmallow people (gender rules from 1984 no longer apply) that turn up in the grocery story with Paul Rudd.

Why are they there?

I know that it’s cool to see “them” again in a somewhat different form. But the original Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man was one of the great movie gags of the 80s and beyond. He was summoned to existence by Ray Stantz thinking of something that would never harm him. In this movie, they just turn up. No summoning. No reason. Adorable. But devoid of purpose or even a joke other than our pleasant memories.

Fact is, the 2016 Ghostbusters (the one with the chicks!) got it a lot more right than this family connection. I could well see a film that was really about Egon’s lost family coming into this situation and becoming people who could save the world. It might have been a great drama with a big action twist. But they didn’t write that movie.

(My take on what undercut the 2016 film is that they ended up with two lead characters who were not dissimilar enough and it hurt the film… even more so with Kate McKinnon stealing every minute she was on screen. She and Leslie Jones were clean and clear as characters. The leads, who are amongst the best movie scene stealers ever, were a murky blur. I know it’s incredibly hard to do as you are working a film into production, but McCarthy and Wiig needed to be forced into being ensemble players for the good of the film. Women are incredibly funny and there were some wonderful moments in the film. It was just wildly off balance.)

I actually sat in the theater, with another screening an hour after the Ghostbusters: Afterlife screening was supposed to end thinking that someone screwed up and the movie had to be 2.5 hours instead of 2 hours because they took so long to get to the ghostbusting part. Really? They are going to save the world in 20 minutes after talking for 90? But alas, that is what they did.

Jason Reitman did a nice job directing. The actors did well. Logan Kim could be the next kid phenom. McKenna Grace continues to grow into what will surely be a great career as a young adult and 20something and beyond. Dan Ackroyd actually gets to act for a minute, which is nice… but the other cameos are meh.

I guess it is better to have loved too much than to never love at all. And I am guessing that is what happened to Reitman here. But when I think back on the construction of that original screenplay… it was really rather brilliant. And they should have known they were in real trouble when all the homages in the first 90 minutes are sight gags and the rhythm and energy of the original script was not honored. As Logan Kim was stealing scenes, it struck me that the movie worked more as a tribute to The Goonies than to Ghostbusters.

Of course, the choice to set the whole thing in the middle of nowhere… again… why???

I never want to tell an artist what to do. But if you are working on a sequel to a classic and you make major changes so as not to be a pale photocopy, great. But you need to answer the questions of WHY?

This one didn’t.

Until tomorrow…