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Ghost Busters, Sony Pictures Releasing, 2016
Stories & Ideas

Sun 01 Nov 2020

Ghostbusters - Mad as hell

FilmPop cultureRead
Maria Lewis
Maria Lewis

Assistant Film Curator

We take a look at an iconic moment in recent cinema: Ghostbusters' "Mad as hell..."

In many ways, Paul Feig’s Ghostbusters (2016) reboot has become better known for the controversy surrounding it than the content of the film itself. When it was first announced that the 1984 sci-fi comedy classic was going to get an all-female update, a specific vocal minority were mad. And by vocal minority, that is to say … internet men. As covered extensively at the time, Twitter was flooded with comments about the film calling it “gender-based pandering” and for the filmmakers to “stay the f**k out of my Ghostbusters” before cameras had even started rolling. Then the reaction to the reactions started to take up real estate in the pop culture conversation, with the Adult Virgin meme going viral and Sandra Bullock going into bat for a production she wasn’t part of. “That was unfair on a level that I can’t even not be mad about talking about,” she said. “[The cast] literally walked into a firing squad. You had five of the most gifted comedian actresses on the planet — I’m just gonna leave it at that … The women are here — we’re not going anywhere. But this isn’t about just women. We like sitting at the table with men. We just want to be invited to their table as well because we like them at our table.”

When Ghostbusters did eventually release in cinemas, it was to mediocre box-office returns that failed to kickstart what Sony had envisioned as a new series of films in the franchise. Just a few years later, it would be rebooted again reverting back to all-men in a move that garnered criticism from many including 2016 cast members. However, one of the key developments among all the toxicity was the platform it created to launch the careers of Kate McKinnon and Leslie Jones on a mainstream level. Both actresses were beloved in comedy circles for their work on Saturday Night Live (1975–present), however, had yet to breakthrough like fellow alumni Kristen Wiig. Ghostbusters became the vessel for that, showcasing McKinnon’s incredible comedic timing and weirdness, along with Jones’ force of nature presence. Nowhere is the latter better highlighted than during a scene where the foursome attempt to bust a ghost at a heavy metal concert.

Recruited to the team of scientists for her street smarts and knowledge of the New York underground, Jones’ portrayal of Patty Tolan is singular to the point it’s almost impossible to imagine anyone else in the role. When she dives into the concert crowd in order to surf and promptly collides with the ground, her delivery of “Okay so I don’t know it was a race thing or a lady thing, but I’m mad as hell” is one of those scene-stealing moments. With her background in sketch and stand-up comedy, Jones doesn’t just say “mad as hell” – she projects it with her body and her expressive facial delivery that have become hallmarks of her as a physical performer. Improvising many of her lines – including this one – it hits largely due to Jones’ authenticity as a personality as well, with her characters often an extension of the woman audiences have grown to love through everything from viral Olympics commentary to hit stand-up specials.

– Maria Lewis