Ghost World Movie Review

It's been seven years since director Terry Zwigoff impressed moviegoers with his documentary Crumb, an uncomfortable look at pop comic artist R. Crumb and his disturbing, grotesque, dysfunctional family. Zwigoff's ability to make viewers squirm and laugh at the same time is again in full bloom, with the fictional Ghost World, a funny, sympathetic look at a whole new group of awkward, unhappy people.

Based on a comic/graphic novel by Daniel Clowes (who co-wrote the screenplay adaptation with Zwigoff), Ghost World provides the point-of-view of young Enid, just out of high school, and aimless in both direction and identity. In the able hands of Thora Birch, who's already suffered the ennui of suburbia in American Beauty, Enid is a caustic, sarcastic, yet charming, sweetie. Birch is in practically every scene of the film, and anchors it with perfect tone.

Enid pals around with best friend Rebecca (a mopy, wonderfully understated Scarlett Johansson), wondering about their futures, and looking for cheap thrills. Their dialogue is an exciting mix of slacker smarts, movie fantasy, and the words of the inexperienced. Rebecca proclaims that she merely wants to "do" the worst stand-up comic in the world (a guy they see on TV, appearing at "The Humor Grotto"), but she wants to "make love" to the mullet-wearing spaz working at a pathetic 50s-style diner. Zwigoff's choice of words, as well as biting settings, give Ghost World a strange, easygoing sensibility that's tough not to like.

As Rebecca gravitates toward the straight and narrow, Enid spends more time with Seymour (played with appropriate shamelessness by indie hero Steve Buscemi), a slightly pathetic record collector who's painfully self-aware of his anti-social tendencies. In Seymour, Enid sees a soul mate, someone else who can't figure out humanity, and may just despise it. What Seymour doesn't know is that the pair's unlikely meeting is the result of a heartless practical joke that Enid and Rebecca have initially played on him.

The wonderful thing about Ghost World is that it finally provides an original mood to the "misunderstood teen" genre. One wrong move and Enid's just another Daria (from the animate TV series; indeed, Ghost World is originally a comic book). Too much bitching about life, and these characters would seem as familiar as those in other movies that have tried to capture this tough period of a person's life (Reality Bites, subUrbia, etc.) Instead, Zwigoff skews everything just left-of-center, including important details in music, costumes, and even freaky background players.

Zwigoff's total package so successfully bucks convention that when Ghost World slides off-course or pushes a bit long, it's easily forgiven. Soon enough, we're back in a revealing conversation between Enid and Seymour, or in Illeana Douglas' hysterical remedial summer art class, which Enid must pass to get the hell out of high school.

Some interesting visual references are made to the director's old friend, R. Crumb (pale, sorry-looking mini-strip malls, a crisscross of endless power lines), and the look of the movie is always exciting. [In fact, Crumb and his daughter painted some of the art seen in the film. -Ed.] Zwigoff even works in blackly comic comments about the interpretation of art, race in America, and the culture of political correctness.

In an early scene, one of the girls proclaims, "That's so bad, it's good." The other replies, "No, that's so bad, it's gone past good, and back to bad again." This sort of retro-retro is exactly where Terry Zwigoff has gone, creating a mood that's so geeky, it's gone right past hip, and back to geeky again. But it's still pretty cool.

Sadly, there aren't nearly enough extras on the DVD to satisfy major fans -- just a making-of doc, a few hilarious outtakes (mainly of shirtless mini-mart patron Todd), and an uncut version of the opening number, "Jaan Pehechaan Ho."

[Be sure to stay until the credits are over for a final, hilarious outtake. -Ed.]

Super hero, super angst.


Comments

Ghost World Rating

" Excellent "

Rating: R, 2001

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