Ghost World
Directed by Terry Zwigoff

Screenplay by Daniel Clowes and Terry Zwigoff
Based upon the comic book by Daniel Clowes
Starring Thora Birch, Scarlett Johansson, Brad Renfro, and Steve Buscemi
111 minutes. Rated R. Original aspect ratio: 1.85:1. 2001

Scarlett Johansson and Thora Birch    It's my own fault, really. I don't write a review for, what, six months? -- and then, prompted by an e-mail from someone who apparently likes this site, decide to get on the ball again. But of course the first movie I see isn't something easy to review, like Moulin Rouge (it's great!) or Planet of the Apes (it blows!). No. Not for me. No, the first film I decide to review after not having reviewed jack shit for six months is the wonderfully complex Ghost World, a film which defies me to attempt an intelligent analysis after only one viewing.
    I really just don't know what to make of this film. I guess we'll start with what I know, and hope that provides some sort of segway into that which I am less sure about. Yeah. That sounds like a plan.
    Okay then! Ghost World is based on the comic book by the same name. Often erroneously called a graphic novel, it was actually the main feature in an independently published comic book called Eightball, then later collected into a trade paperback. It was written and drawn by Daniel Clowes, who co-wrote the screenplay for the film with Enid (Thora Birch) and my -- uh, HER -- art teacher (Illeana Douglas)director Terry Zwigoff (Crumb). The film version features Thora Birch (American Beauty) and Scarlett Johansson (The Horse Whisperer) as two friends dealing with their post-high school existence.
    All right. I'm gonna go ahead and say this, and I'm just gonna say it once: I am madly, madly in love with Thora Birch. Kooky thoughts enter my head when I see that girl.
    At any rate, the acting from all parties is phenomenal. Thora Birch creates another dark, misunderstood, rebellious teenager, but only on the surface does her character in this film in any way resemble the girl she created in American Beauty. Indeed, if I had to compare Birch's character in Ghost World -- Enid -- to anyone, it would be Claire Danes' character Angela in the short-lived television series My So-Called Life. Both are these angst-filled flawed characters who, by all rights, you should dislike, but who you can't help falling for anyway. Enid is quite a bit harder than Angela, though that makes her all the more interesting. Johansson's character, Rebecca, is harder to like. Rebecca and Enid grew up together, and they clearly have a lot of love for each other, but they seem to be veering off in two different directions. And since the film is told from Enid's perspective, we get a slightly more negative view of Birch questions a would-be bus rider while Johansson looks onRebecca than we might otherwise. Johansson does a great job with the role, though, and creates an interesting contrast between Birch and herself.
    Also featured is Steve Buscemi, who is brilliantly cast as Seymour, a man starts out as an object of ridicule for the girls to amuse themselves with, but who swiftly turns into a close friend of Enid's -- straining the already tense relationship between her and Rebecca. The relationship between Seymour and Enid is an interesting one. How exactly does she feel about him? How would one define their relationship? Would one want to even try? Buscemi was absolutely the perfect choice for this role, and he does a fantastic job with it, nicely playing off of Enid, who he's both compelled and confused by. Brad Renfro (Apt Pupil) has a small part as Josh, a friend of Enid and Rebecca who they both seem to have a crush on.
    Okay, I also just have to throw this in, and hope that Ms. Mandell is not somehow reading this -- Illeana Douglas plays Enid's artBling! teacher, who is a dead ringer for the art teacher I had in high school. It was quite frightening, actually. I could have closed my eyes and thought that I was back in zero period art, snickering at her with Nathan, Joe and Jessie. Just had to throw that in.
    I also really enjoyed the score by David Kitay, who also did the music for such soaring cinematic accomplishments as Dude, Where's My Car? and Tomcats. Nevertheless, he does a great job creating music that perfectly accentuates the characters and the mood of the film -- quirky, and yet sad at the same time. I'd recommend the soundtrack based solely on the fact that one track from Kitay is on the CD.
    Quirky and yet sad seems such a trite way to sum up this brilliantly complex film, and yet on the other hand, that sums it up pretty nicely. The script is one of those that effortlessly swings from "absolutely hilarious" to "heartbreaking" as easily as it goes from scene to scene. I was a little disappointed that Rebecca seemed to all but vanish from the film about halfway through, but on the other hand, it was a fairly true-to-life way of telling Enid's story. It often doesn't matter if you grew up with someone -- sometimes, people just drift apart, despite every intention to the contrary. That's by all means not the only thing this film is about. It's also about (God, this sounds so trite) not doing what's expected of you, maybe not even doing what's best for you, but doing what you need to do.
    It's also about leaving your expectations at the door, which is what I suggest you do when you go to see this film. And I do suggest you go to see this film, because, despite my inability to write about it in any depth, it is one of the best films I have seen in some time. I'd smell Oscar if the Oscars were more about quality storytelling than they are about money.
    Still, you never know.

    Bottom line: Alternately funny and heartbreaking, this is a brilliant film that features a wonderfully complex script and likewise wonderfully complex performances from a fantastic cast.
    My grade: A
    My advice: Walk in with no expectations, but do walk in. You won't be disappointed. I wasn't.


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