Saying that Terry Zwigoff’s Ghost World is quirky and funny is like saying the sky’s blue. It’s obvious and doesn’t need anyone to toot its horn. Ghost World was adapted by Zwigoff along with the property’s original creator, comic book writer Daniel Clowes, and follows the adventures of recent High School graduates Enid (Thora Birch) and her best friend since 7th grade, Rebecca (Scarlett Johannson), as they wander the streets of their small, unnamed town. Well, actually Rebecca has graduated, and Enid still has to take an art class in summer school to officially finish her acedemic career.
Ghost World is yet another take on “weird teens” in High School, but instead of focusing on the actual machinations of High School, Ghost World decides to detour a bit and follow our heroines, Enid and Rebecca, in the months after High School, when real life begins to insert itself into their lives, shattering their safe “strange” world with cold hard reality. Enid and Rebecca are the standard “Too Cool for School” kids, too smart to be friends with anyone else besides each other and too out of the norm to prepare for college along with everyone else. Instead, the two friends’ only real dream after High School is to move into an apartment together. It’s a dream that, no doubt, is necessary if they’re going to continue their little observant escapades, which consists of the friends walking up and down streets or going into restaurants and choosing a subject to toy with.
One day the friends choose middle age loser Seymour (Steve Buscemi) after they spot a personal ad he’s placed in a newspaper. The girls, of course, calls him and sets up a date in order to observe his embarrassment at having been scammed. Seymour, of course, falls for it hook, line, and sinker. The two friends, along with Josh (Brad Renfro), a third party who becomes an unwilling accomplice in the mean trick, sees Seymour make a fool of himself while waiting for his mysterious date. Instead of making fun of him, Enid feels a certain morbid fascination for the man. It isn’t long before Enid discovers that the loser Seymour is actually not such a loser, but is in fact more of a mirror image of herself, only 20 or 30 years in the future, and we get the feeling that it scares her to death. Seymour is Enid, and no one realizes it but her.
In an attempt to avert her own fate (which she sees as identical to Seymour’s), Enid attempts to fix the dateless Seymour up. In a word, she wants to change his life for the better, in the vain hopes that there is a chance for people “like them.” He, of course, fails miserably. That is, until Dana (Stacey Travis) shows up. Dana is a pretty blonde and actually likes the awkward Seymour. This puts a cramp in Enid’s little scheme, as she suddenly realizes she likes Seymour as more than just a friend. By the same token, the middle age Seymour begins to have feelings for the much-too-young Enid.
This, of course, puts a damper on Enid and Rebecca’s friendship, as Enid finds herself spending more and more time with Seymour and not getting that job that she had promised Rebecca she would get in order to earn enough money for the two’s apartment. Life, it seems, has finally inserted itself into Rebecca and Enid’s tidy little world, and its appearance is sending both of them reeling.
For its first 80 minutes, Ghost World is an extremely funny film. Situations occur that are just hilarious, and yet are not out of the realm of possibility. These things could happen. In the strange and even oddball world of Ghost World, every funny scene seems completely usual. The film does threaten to leave its senses and stray into the realm of Teen Film cliché toward the end, but that is quickly righted, as nothing I was dreading would happen came to pass, and thus Ghost World remained unpredictable to the very end. Expect no easy solutionse and you won’t be disappointed.
As always, Steve Buscemi plays a likeable loser, and what else can I say except that he’s very good at the role. Of course, I’m somewhat biased, since I tend to like Buscemi in any role, even when he’s playing a flesh-chopping serial killer in Con Air. Buscemi has that everyman quality, that look, which makes him completely believable. The man has conviction.
As Enid, Thora Birch probably gained some weight to play the slightly chunky Enid, and she does a stellar job at the oddball role. Her Enid is mischievous and likeable at the same time. She’s not mean-spirited, just curious to see how far she can push things. I was a little worried that, like a lot of other “Too Cool for School” smartasses that have come before her, Enid’s “I’m smarter than the world” schtick would start to get old. Fortunately, it never did.
Scarlett Johansson strikes a nice balance as Rebecca, the prettier of the two friends. Her Rebecca always seems on the verge of tiring of Enid’s antics, and yet Enid’s engaging personality always manages to pull the two friends’ close friendship back together. The only real problem I have with the film is Illeana Douglas as Roberta, the kooky art teacher, who seems to be much too kooky for her own good.
Ghost World is an incredibly likeable film, and much like its cast, is very under the surface. These people live around you, you just don’t notice them, but maybe you should, because they’re probably the most interesting thing about your block.
Terry Zwigoff (director) / Daniel Clowes, Terry Zwigoff (screenplay)
CAST: Thora Birch …. Enid
Scarlett Johansson …. Rebecca
Steve Buscemi …. Seymour
Brad Renfro …. Josh
Illeana Douglas …. Roberta