[box cover]

Ghost World

MGM Home Video

Starring Thora Birch, Scarlett Johansson and Steve Buscemi

Written by Daniel Clowes and Terry Zwigoff
Directed by Terry Zwigoff

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Review by Dawn Taylor                    

"Unfortunately, most people who are successful in Hollywood or any other business are not oddballs at all. They don't get the type of characters we have in the film — the misfits and the alienated. They relate to some guy who drinks three beers, shoots some hoops and goes and sees Shakespeare in Love. That's what their lives are all about. Now that's something I can't relate to at all."

Ghost World director Terry Zwigoff

If you read comics by guys like Daniel Clowes ("Eightball," "David Boring," "Lloyd Llewellyn") and you enjoyed Terry Zwigoff's creepy-funny documentary Crumb, then their film Ghost World was made for you. Hell, it was more than likely made about you. And it will make you laugh, make you sad, make you remember what being eighteen was like ... and make you glad somebody gave Clowes and Zwigoff the money to make this devastatingly witty and wonderful movie.

Enid (Thora Birch) and Rebecca (Scarlett Johansson) 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. At their graduation ceremony, they listen in disgusted amusement to a sanctimonious speech from a classmate in a wheelchair who smugly drones that she's learned, because of her "personal setback," that she doesn't need to rely on drugs and alcohol. Enid tells Rebecca, "I liked her so much better when she was an alcoholic crack addict. She gets in one little car crash, suddenly she's Little Miss Perfect and everyone loves her."

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. Stuck in a dreary summer-school art class run by one of those talentless ex-hippie women who believe that art has to address "issues," Enid'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!" There are simply too many wonderful moments that are better experienced than described: The stuffed mongoose at the garage sale; the party Seymour throws for his fellow record collectors; the mullet-headed, nunchuck-wielding convenience store patron; the sidewalk pants; the trip to the adult video store. And, in one of the very best moments, Enid's job at the movie theater snack bar, where she's instructed to upsell: "Why, sir. Do you not know that for a mere twenty-five cents more you can get a large beverage? You know, I'm only telling you this because we're such good friends. Medium is really for suckers who don't know the meaning of value." 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.

As the center of Ghost World, Birch's poignant portrayal of Enid is dead-on — she captures the character from Dan Clowes' graphic novel and then piles on layers of nuance, making Enid snotty, hard as nails, smart, vulnerable, passionate, clueless, plain, blasé, beautiful ... in short, giving an insanely complex and believable performance, far more deserving (in this reviewer's opinion, anyway) of a Golden Globe or Oscar than any other actress in 2001. The always-good Buscemi rarely has 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. Of special note is Dave Sheridan as Doug, the sunburned, nunchuck-flinging convenience-store guy. Sheridan parodied Scream's David Arquette as "Doofy" in Scary Movie and has appeared in such unremarkable fare as Corky Romano and Bubble Boy; he came to Clowes' and Zwigoff's attention when animator Mike Judge gave them an audition tape that Sheridan had sent in of himself doing different characters. The nunchuck-guy, Zwigoff said in an interview, "literally had me on the floor crying," and so they put him in the movie.

While a truly happy ending would violate everything that Ghost World is about, by the film's end you can't help but hope that some kind of miraculous, sappy fate will await Enid and Seymour. And while Clowes and Zwigoff conclude their movie in a much less depressing way than the novel, the ending is still ambiguous enough that you can project any possible outcome onto the characters that you like. And if you want to believe that everyone eventually turns out okay and gets what they want ... well, that's okay, isn't it?

*          *          *

MGM's DVD release of Ghost World is a joy to look at, with bright colors popping off the screen. It's 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 (more of Seymour trying to sell records at his party, a short scene with Illeana Douglas at the student art show, and two extended sequences with Doug the nunchuck-guy and the convenience-store owner). But the gem that makes this disc worth the price of admission is the entire musical number 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.

— Dawn Taylor

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