GHOST WORLD (2001) 

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Thora Birch
Scarlett Johansson
Steve Buscemi
Brad Renfro
Illeana Douglas
Bob Balaban
Stacey Travis
Teri Garr

Terry Zwigoff



Graphic Novel

Time: 111 mins.
Rating: R
Genre: Drama/Romance

Academy Award nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay.

This is one of those films I went into sure I was going to like and came out of with serious doubts about my ability to choose movies for myself. The sad thing is, I'm beginning to think that I'm just more of a mainstream type of gal. Oh the horror. It's not that this was a bad film. In fact, it's the darkly funny and extremely heart-wrenching tale about a young woman trying to find her place in the world once she graduates high school. It's just from the trailer and reviews I saw, I though it was going to be more of a comedy, especially since it's being compared to WELCOME TO THE DOLLHOUSE. Thora Birch plays the young lady in question and gives a tremendously heart-breaking performance even though her character is abrasive and completely self-centered. Welcome to being a teenager. What keeps you from totally hating her is the fact that she can't really help it. She is who she is, take it or leave it. Unfortunately she's so far out of step with the "normal" world there's no way for her to be part of it. Her friends and family can't understand her behavior though they continue to try to love her. It's a painful scenario to watch.

The film begins with the high school graduation of Enid (Birch) and Rebecca (Johansson). They were the weird girls in their class, horrified at the perky, college bound people they shared 4 years with. Their plan to get jobs and move into their own apartment – college is far to normal for them – is initially foiled because Enid has to go to summer school. She won't get her diploma until she passes an art class. Lost in the world between childhood and adulthood, the girls cause trouble to pass the time. As a joke they respond to a personal ad placed in the local free paper. When their "date" arrives, they watch from a nearby table, slightly amused, but also saddened by the pathetic rube who actually showed up. Enid finds herself compelled to learn more about this man. Rebecca is not pleased. It doesn't take much effort to discover where he lives and Enid quickly becomes Seymour's new best friend. Mainly, because he's so out of touch with the real world, but partially because she needs a project to give her an excuse not to face the problems in her own life. Summer school sucks, Rebecca is becoming more mainstream and really pressuring Enid to fulfill her promise to get a job, and her father has renewed his relationship with a woman she loathes.

"This is so bad it's gone past good and back to bad again."

It seems the only person who understands her is Seymour, a dork with no love life and an obsession with classic blues and jazz records. A big part of his problem. When they're together, they can be as weird as they want to be. Basically just be themselves. Seymour is a little more straight-laced than Enid, but he goes along with her schemes because no one's ever liked him before. By focusing on Seymour, Enid can pretend her world is not changing, that her opportunities to carve out a place for herself aren't dwindling by the second. She wants to please the people she loves, but she's unable to give up her self-identity, which is wrapped up in her strange idea of life, and conform to the same everyday values the rest of society lives by. By the end of the summer, Enid's managed to piss off everyone in her life by destroying their hopes and dreams for a future with her in it. In the end, she realizes this is a place she doesn't belong and her presence will only continue to hurt those she loves. So, she decides to make her ultimate fantasy come true. The ending is somewhat ambiguous, so you'll have to interpret it on your own.

Though it's not exactly what I expected, GHOST WORLD is one of the most honest character pieces I have seen in a long time. These are real people, trying to make their lives worth living. Enid is both tragic and powerful. She refuses to succumb to society's view of who she should be, but loses everything because of it. I guess the ending is one of hope. Maybe she'll find a place that will accept her for who she is. Birch's performance is the heart and soul of the piece. I didn't always like her, but I couldn't stop watching. What keeps you on her side is the internal knowledge that at some point in your life you thought of the world just like her. Most of us sell out, happily becoming part of the consumer culture. The rebels stick to their own beat. Johansson is good as well, but her's is a more supporting role and it doesn't have the meat of Enid. Buscemi, who plays the dork turned hero Seymour, is wonderful here, but the character is mostly an amalgam of all the other genial losers he's played over the years. Douglas plays the wacky art teacher and brings nothing to that classic high school role. I'm not sure why they make them all esoteric hippies. My high school art teacher was a bitter old woman who hated us. Not as quirky and funny I guess.

The look and feel of the film is urban and gritty. This is not a world with everything in its' proper place. One of the more clever aspects of the film is the costume design. Enid's clothes run from the slightly off-center to the truly wacky. It's clear she's trying to make others uncomfortable while proudly showing how unique she is. The outfits for Rebecca are far more subdued and get even more generic and Gap-like over the course of the movie. It's clear her choice is to join the rest of the world, instead of always fighting against it. Their outfits speak volumes. This unflinching view of the world and how we discover our place in it, is a film that will stick with me for quite some time. If you're looking for a movie experience that has a deeper message about life this is one to check out. However, don't let the ads fool you. This may have it's comic moments, but only truly demented people would call this a comedy.

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