Ghost World


Reviewed by: Keith Hennessey Brown

Ghost World
"As the main characters and their relationships develop, a sincere, wise film emerges."

Two cynical misfits, Enid (Thora Birch) and Rebecca (Scarlett Johansson), decide to quit High School and get a place of their own together. But plans are put on hold when Enid - a keen cartoonist - is forced to take an art class in order to graduate.

For kicks the two respond to an ad in the personals, pretending to be the mystery woman Seymour (Steve Buscemi) met on a flight.

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Seymour arrives at the faux Fifties diner, waits patiently for his date to arrive and leaves disappointed again.

Later the girls see Seymour at his stall, where he sells old blues records. Enid buys one and finds it speaks to her. Gradually she reassesses Seymour, seeing him less as a schmuck and more as a decent guy who just needs some help with women.

As Enid and Seymour spend more time together, Enid's relationship with Rebecca comes under strain. They are both growing, but apart.

Based on the adult comic by David Clowes - who co-wrote the screenplay - Ghost World is the first fiction film from Terry Zwigoff, director of the acclaimed documentaries Louie Blue and Crumb.

With comics and blues being important to the film, it feels more of a logical continuation than a radical break; an impression bolstered by a functional, unobtrusive directorial style. (Whether the mise-en-scene deliberately resembles Clowes's comic or used it as a storyboard I don't know.)

Initially I was hostile to Ghost World. It felt cruel and cynical, inhabited by caricatures like Illeana Douglas's right-on art teacher. But, as the main characters and their relationships develop, a sincere, wise film emerges.

Zwigoff and Clowes are being cool about coolness, cynical about cynicism and critical of pretensions. They recognise the way such poses only contribute to the alienation, isolation and whitewashed lack of authenticity that Enid, Seymour and Rebecca are each raging against in one way or another.

Take, for instance, the minor character of a martial arts nut with a mullet. A figure of fun? Look closer. What gives you or I the right to say his hairstyle and pastime are stupid?

Or consider Douglas's art teacher - yes, she's all PC pomo but she also sees through the other students' bullshit to recognise that Enid is the only one with something of her own to say.

Of the cast, Thora Birch does pale and interesting better than any other young actress, though Scarlett Johansson's Rebecca is underdeveloped by comparison and I'd have liked to have seen more of her. Bob Balaban and Douglas are reliable veterans who grace any film, while Steve Buscemi has a real feel for winning losers.

Ultimately Ghost World is a very successful film about coming to terms with, and overcoming, failure and disappointment in life. I liked a lot. But then, as Seymour puts it, "I'm just a dork."

Reviewed on: 16 Aug 2001
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Ghost World packshot
Teenage rebel makes friends with middle-aged jazz collector and discovers alienation.
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Angus Wolfe Murray ****

Director: Terry Zwigoff

Writer: Dan Clowes, Terry Zwigoff

Starring: Thora Birch, Scarlett Johanssen, Steve Buscemi, Brad Renfro, Stacey Travis, Illeana Douglas, Bob Balaban, Teri Garr

Year: 2001

Runtime: 112 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: US


EIFF 2001

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