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If you’re looking for a trustworthy review of the new Ghostbusters, who you gonna call?
Track down a review from a leading female critic and you’re likely to find that the new movie, built around a quartet of women — Melissa McCarthy, Kristin Wiig, Kate McKinnon and Leslie Jones — gets a solid thumbs-up. But check in with some of the top male critics and you’re just as likely to run into a negative critique.
Describing the movie as “enjoyable, disposable fun,” the New York Times’ Manohla Dargis acknowledged “the project’s early sexist attackers,” who objected to the fact that the franchise, which originally starred Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Harold Ramis and Ernie Hudson, was being entrusted to a bunch of women, but added, “Girls rule, women are funny, get over it.”
A number of male reviews also cited the controversy that preceded the film, but were less charmed by the final results. “I went into the movie spoiling for a fight — I really wanted to like director Paul Feig’s reimagining, to prove all the misogynist online naysayers wrong,” wrote Vanity Fair’s Richard Lawson. “But Ghostbusters, quick and dull and weightless, offers very little to root for. It spends so much time doing battle with its legacy that it forgets to be its own movie, putting a talented cast to waste and marking another disappointment in this dreadful summer movie season.”
Reactions to any comedy are, of course, inherently subjective, and while there are some male critics who love the new Ghostbusters — and also some female critics who hate it — women reviewers are a lot happier with the new pic than their male counterparts.
The numbers tell the story.
As of Monday morning, four days before the film’s release, Rotten Tomatoes surveyed 61 reviews. (Numbers on the site are subject to change as more reviews come in.) Of those initial 61 reviews, representing the opinions of 43 men and 18 women, 77 percent were positive — or “fresh” in the reviewer aggregation site’s lingo.
But that judgment wasn’t equally shared by men and women.
Of the total group of reviewers, the 43 men gave the movie a 72 percent positive and 28 percent negative (or “rotten”) rating. But among the 18 women, the movie got a warmer reception — 89 percent positive and only 11 percent negative.
Among those reviewers that Rotten Tomatoes separates out as “top critics,” the differences in opinion were even more pronounced.
The 17 top critics included 11 men and 6 women. The male critics, which included The Hollywood Reporter’s David Rooney, were mostly unimpressed — 64 percent of their reviews were negative, while just 36 percent were positive. Among the six women critics, the results were almost entirely reversed — 67 percent were positive and 33 percent were negative.
If the Rotten Tomatoes results are a guide, Ghostbusters is proving to be a Rorschach test, suggesting that male and female writers see movies — or at least this particular film — through different lenses.
That, however, was not the finding of a report on “Top Film Critics and Gender,” released in June by the Center for the Study of Women in Television & Film at San Diego State University, headed by Dr. Martha Lauzen. That study detailed how the vast majority of “top critics” on Rotten Tomatoes are male by a margin of 73 percent to 27 percent. But it also found that, during spring 2016, male writers and female writers did not judge movies featuring female protagonists differently. Both men and women give femme-centric movies an average rating of 66 percent
“I’m inclined to treat Ghostbusters as a special case in that the response to the idea of the film, in advance of its release, has been unusually polarized and relatively high profile,” said Lauzen. “While these largely negative comments have not been made by professional critics, certainly reviewers writing for the largest media outlets would be aware of this reaction.”
In fact, over on rival review aggregate site Metacritic, the differences are not as pronounced — possibly because Metacritic surveys so many more men than women . As of Monday morning, Metacritic, which assigns a numerical value to each review, took a look at 23 reviews — 19 written by men and just four by women.
In the case of Metacritic, the average ranking of all its 19 male-generated reviews is 64.4, while the average for the four female-penned reviews is 62.5.
That’s partially explained by the fact that the male reviewers, pro and con, tend to write more hyperbolically. For example, Ghostbusters got its top grade of 91 from Hitfix’s Drew McWeeny, who called the movie “a big fat slice of silly summer entertainment, confident and sometimes quite beautiful.” By contrast, the top-ranked review from a female critic came from Time’s Stephanie Zacharek, who awarded the film an 80 for being an “affable, inventive riff on Ivan Reitman’s proton-packing caper.”
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