Article by Lauren Rosewarne /
ABC The Drum /
January 29, 2015 /
A persistent bugbear for those of us interested in gender equality is the consistently piss poor acting roles for women.
There are, after all, only so many times that it’s palatable to watch stellar actresses decorate the edges of films about men.
No, it’s not all doom and gloom – television, particularly, is proving notably fertile ground for complex roles for women where contributions extend well beyond eye candy – but as long as roles are limited to girlfriends/wives/mothers, the issue of screen equality remains topical.
Back in the 1980s – a time before Bill Murray had become a parody of himself (timed, incidentally, to coincide with the release of Lost in Translation) – he starred in Ghostbusters and its sequel.
And ever since, apparently, there have been loud calls for a follow-up from those with an unlimited yearning for the nostalgic.
While Murray seems to revel in his role as a meme, equally, he seems to prefer to limit his acting to roles where he doesn’t have to stretch much beyond self-caricature.
I submit St Vincent as 102 minutes of proof.
Reprising his role as Dr Venkman therefore, is apparently too much work for the 64-year-old.
So without Murray, without Harold Ramis and with Dan Aykroyd otherwise busy with his ghouls and grappa, for a moment there, a Ghostbusters follow-up appeared in jeopardy.
While it might be worth questioning why producers didn’t just fund a completely new venture rather than rehashing a decades-old one, questioning the machinations of Hollywood is notoriously fruitless.
(Equally, in the everything-old-is-hip-again era, Ghostbusters exists as a time-honoured brand that will get cashed-up kidults in their 30s and 40s to the multiplex in droves. Cha-ching).
In a move that seems equal parts surprising and cheap marketing, the ol’ switcheroo has been pulled: Murray/Aykroyd/Ramis/Moranis cast will be replaced with Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig and two other women I’ve never heard of in a 2015 all-female spin.
A new Ghostbusters, my friends, is back in the pipelines.
A way-paving for a new generation of female comic icons? A triumph for equality? Something to desperately long for while we wait patiently for the next new Big Momma instalment?
While replacing men with women is not a particularly creative strategy, I do see a little merit.
Putting a bunch of women at the helm of a film with well-established hype provides a clever answer to the anachronistic “can women really be funny?” question. Equally, it shows a belief that women can fill a cinema in a climate where this is still commonly doubted.
Most importantly, such a film fulfils a key symbolic function of normalising women headlining blockbusters.
Alas, it’s quite a bit more complicated than this.
Anticipation – particularly the high kind – always sets audiences up for gross disappointment. Nothing ever manages to meet the expectations of exorbitant amounts of marketing and, in this case, some 30 years of waiting.
Similarly, any Ghostbusters redux will exist in the shadow of the beloved originals.
And here is where the danger lies.
McCarthy and Wiig are going to get compared to the “comedy legends” that occupied the roles in the 80s. They are going to get compared and they, inevitably, are going to fail dismally because Ghostbusters is more than film, but a legacy.
The hazard here – and the hazard of any remake – is that decades of exaggerating and embellishing our love for something can only mean any new version will be perceived as an insipid forgery.
Rather than giving women comics an entirely new project to make hilarious, instead, McCarthy and Wiig have been given a spectacular opportunity to fail. Fail not because they aren’t funny or talented, but fail because audiences have a soft spot – even if a thoroughly deluded soft spot – for heritage.
Just ask Coke.
Just ask Big M.
Just ask Cadbury.
As every female politician knows too well, women are not only expected to perform as well as their male predecessors and male counterparts but better because women are under much closer scrutiny. Because people are just waiting – and often even salivating – for them to fail.
A female version of Ghostbusters faces the same challenges.
To be deemed a success a female Ghostbusters can’t just be funny or a mere box office triumph, it’s going to have to do the impossible and unequivocally blow the legacy out of the water.
The most daunting of all challenges.
© Lauren Rosewarne