Enid (Thora Birch) and Rebecca (Scarlett Johansson), the teenage girls at the center of Terry Zwigoff's film version of Dan Clowes brilliant graphic novel Ghost World, are clever, cheeky, world-weary best friends. You probably knew girls like this in high school the wise-cracking outsiders who dress in thrift-store clothes, listen to freaky music and scowl at all the jocks. Too smart for their own good, Enid and Rebecca respond to their commercialized strip-mall surroundings by constantly cataloguing the things that they don't like, cynically mocking everything that's banal which, in their world, is practically everything. Recently graduated from high school, the girls are at one of life's crossroads, unsure what to do with their future. Enid is at more of a loss than Rebecca, who's blond, more conventionally pretty, and working at a Starbucks-like coffee franchise she's unable to figure out what, in life, brings her any sort of joy; her existence is defined by all the things that she doesn't want. When she meets Seymour (Steve Buscemi), a disaffected, forty-something loner who collects rare jazz records, Enid senses a kindred spirit and the best way she can express the attraction to Rebecca is to claim, "He's everything that I don't hate!" Enid takes on Seymour as a sort of project, trying to bring him out of his shell and pushing him to meet women. But when one of those women turns out to really like him, the complicated nature of Enid and Seymour's relationship starts to unfurl, while at the same time the more mainstream Rebecca moves on with her life, leaving Enid behind. Ghost World is one of those rare gems of a film that's difficult to explain to people. It's a comedy and a really, really funny one but it's sort of melancholy. It's about friendship, and love, and growing up, and how crappy and commercial middle-class America is, yet also about how many things there are to grab onto and enjoy ... you just want to thrust a copy of it into the hands of everyone you love and shout, "Trust me, you have to watch this movie!" Rarely has a film given us such marvelous characters, much less marvelous teenage characters, and girls, to boot. Unlike the brain-dead teens in most current movies, Enid and Rebecca aren't bimbos, or "kids at risk," or drunken idiots. They're simply human beings going through the process of figuring out their world as best they can and, as is far too often the case, finding that to make your own path in life you may hurt some of the people you care about. Birch's poignant portrayal of Enid is nuanced and believable, while the always good Buscemi has rarely had the opportunity to play a character as well-rounded as Seymour, who starts out looking to be every bit the schmuck that the girls assume he is, but as we (and Enid) get to know him better, he turns out to be mature, kind, witty and, yes, attractive. Perfectly cast actors who shine in smaller roles include Bob Balaban as Enid's befuddled father, Teri Garr as Enid's loathed ex-stepmother, and Illeana Douglas as the dippy art teacher. MGM's DVD release of Ghost World is sharp and bright, presented in anamorphic widescreen (1.85:1) with Dolby Digital 5.1 audio. An unremarkable "making-of" featurette is on board, the theatrical trailer, and four deleted/alternate scenes. But the gem that makes this disc worth the price of admission is the entire musical sequence used in the film's opening sequence, "Jaan Pehechaan Ho," from the 1965 Bollywood movie Gumnaan. This is, simply put, the best musical number ever burned onto celluloid. No kidding.
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