Improv at the Upright Citizens Brigade (UCB) runs in service to “the game of the scene.” Typically, improvisers first establish a base reality, working together to create a clear “who, what, where.” Discover who’s doing what where, keep it simple and grounded, and let your characters live in their ordinary world. The “game” is whatever is unusual or funny in that world, the first departure from the ordinary; you then explore and heighten the game together. All you have to do is be there, paying close attention, listening to and moving forward with every detail, to see and then play with the unusual thing.
The rebooted Ghostbusters [note: I watched the extended edition] came under heavy scrutiny. How much of it was a chauvinist self-fulfilling prophecy? Probably most of it. But I imagine a lot of the objection was due to its form. It was so comfortably loose, letting the characters just be together in their world. This leads to scene after scene that, in a movie more concerned with plot, would’ve been swift and carefully edited. Instead, in these scenes, the actors are doing what most of them were trained to do: improvise. They’re discovering and playing the game of each scene, building on the game of each character, e.g.
Thor’s Kevin’s stupidity, Erin’s desperate (only when he’s around) attraction to him (because it has more of a Frozen style sisterly love ending/theme), Jillian’s eccentric genius, Abby’s Melissa McCarthy-ness, Patty’s Leslie Jones-ness.
It’s the Judd Apatow approach (not that he alone is responsible for it): film abundantly, without judgment, trusting that your actors and actresses will discover something wonderful together. You’re giving the film the chance to be more than it was initially designed to be; you’re letting it become another thing entirely through acknowledging the beauty of artistic process. For audiences used to strict curation of what belongs on screen, this style can feel obnoxious, as if it wasn’t really made for you; i.e. it’s obvious how much fun the actors and actresses are having, but isn’t it at the expense of the characters we’re supposed to connect to? Isn’t it at the expense of our participation?
Probably. I can’t say I connected to the characters very much, but because I admired and enjoyed the actors and actresses, I didn’t care. The film wasn’t a film as much as a series of fun improv scenes with funny people. Having just spent a few months in that world, I was primed to be on board with this creative decision. I was more than willing to sit through wherever the film was headed, just for the chance to see another scene between skilled improvisers. Who knows what funny detail might emerge if we just give them space to breathe?
It’s certainly a risk to film improv in a medium that has greater “permanence” built into it. Borrowing from a form that thrives on its ephemerality and trying to translate it into a new space that actually preserves it? At the very least, it’s a fun experiment.
In improv, there are no ghosts; nothing lives long enough to die. But (see where this is going?) I ain’t afraid of no ghosts anyway. And while all this is valid, I say bring on a sequel. Or at least just let the four stars reunite.