Ghost World Reviews
Of course, Jim Halpert is fictional and so is Michael Scott, and I exist in a world I'd like to think is real. Therefore there are no cameras around for me to break the fourth wall of. I can laugh all I want at life's many ironies, its many detours that look almost exactly like a vintage "Saturday Night Live" skit. But unless I'm with a friend or a like-minded acquaintance, no one can enjoy an easy-to-make-fun-of moment of time in quite the same way I can. For those few minutes am I able to tell myself that I'm above the given situation I'm internally guffawing at. But am I really that much better myself?
The central characters of 2001's "Ghost World" live perpetually in that bubble of self-regard: so staunchly intelligent are they that everyone around them appears to be artificial and little-minded, countering to their ability to detect the world's bullshit. I'm not nearly as cynical and not nearly as wrapped up in myself. But "Ghost World's" Enid (Thora Birch) and Becky (Scarlett Johansson) are.
We first meet them on the day they're graduating from high school. Outsiders within a typical American town jam packed with strip malls and fast-food joints, they've spent their entire lives existing as wallflowers within a community that will never understand them - they only have each other, and that's perfectly fine. Better to have a friend who can recognize the spurious natures of classmates and authority figures than fake friendships for the sake of looks.
Initially, though, we're not so sure that we like them. They mock the school's valedictorian, wheelchair bound from a traffic accident that took the lives of several other classmates, for her sudden angelic persona. "I liked her so much better when she was an alcoholic crack addict," Enid snickers only minutes after the ceremony comes to a close. Later that night, they attend the senior party looking down upon every person they make eye contact with. For a moment, we're certain that they're precursors to the emo kids of the late 2000s, the classic punky teens who talk of leaving the hometown they so thoroughly despise over cartoons and discussions of crashing the local mall for no reason other than there's nothing else to do.
But, alas, Enid and Becky are much smarter than that. They're rejects who are brainier and more world-weary than almost every other kid their age. They know that they have more in the way of observation than most, but they also aren't so sure how to fashion themselves into people that are much more than cultural critics heard by no one.
At least that's how Enid feels. Nearly gothic in her appearance, she likes thrift shops and obscure blues records, and is amused by "authentic" 1950s diners set in strip malls and adult video stores. But she isn't as aware in what she fancies in terms of her future; to think of marriage or adulthood or another year is a scary unknown she'd rather not think about. She'd prefer to remain a high school senior forever, able to scoff at the imbeciles around her for the rest of her life. She thrives on the understanding that she is, intellectually, a cut above her peers.
But those days are over, and reality is setting in quickly and painfully. Despite their unbreakable bond throughout their schooling, Becky is beginning to show signs of thirsting to do more with her life - she wants to get an apartment with Enid and eventually go to any university that will take her. She's gotten a job as a barista to help pay for her hopeful endeavors. But such aspiration is disgusting to Enid, who would rather sneer her way through her existence.
To avoid thinking of the pitfalls of responsibility, she decides to wreak havoc upon the life of Seymour (Steve Buscemi), a loner who posts an ad in the newspaper seeking a mystery blond he met and liked but never got the number of. In an unthinkably cruel move, Enid and Becky respond to the advertisement and watch wickedly as he shows up for a date that will never arrive.
New for Enid, though, is a sense of guilt. She's used to making people the object of fun behind their backs, only rarely laughing at someone in front of their face. So she feels bad for the prank, later showing up at a garage sale in which he's selling antique records. To her surprise, she likes the guy - they match in their loneliness, though Enid isn't so conscious of her own despair at the moment of their first genuine meeting.
Time goes by and things grow increasingly unsteady - Enid and Becky begin to drift apart, Enid spending most of her time with Seymour in the process - and "Ghost World's" descent from self-aware teenage black comedy into viscerally desolate character study is a bruising one. It turns its back on its main characters, introducing them as whip smart girls of the "Heathers" category only to suddenly see them as susceptible misfits who don't have the thick skin their verbal lashings might suggest.
Which is what makes it the affecting film that it is: it recognizes the intelligence of its characters but never forgets that self-awareness does not always lead to satisfaction. It vocalizes the hard truth that maybe Enid and Becky's friendship is more out of school day survival than eternal adoration, that maybe Enid will never know what to do with herself, and that maybe she will end up like Seymour, who hasn't had a girlfriend in four years, works a boring day job, and obsessively collects old blues 78 RPMs because he's so incredibly alone. It's a humorous film, to be certain; but its laughs are rooted in sadness. Is it worth chuckling at things we might not, and Enid and Becky might not, be that much better than?
Directed and co-written by Terry Zwigoff, "Ghost World" is an adaptation of the graphic novel of the same name by Daniel Clowes. Acclaimed for its astute portrayal of modern alienation, its film counterpart matches in its lonesome inflictions. It's as blackly funny as it is emotionally devastating. There are never any obvious developments in the plot or predictable character maneuverings. Birch is wondrously droll (though I like her the most when she's at her least guarded), and Johansson is impressively dry. Buscemi is touching, and Illeana Douglas, as Enid's flighty art teacher, steals scenes with subtle deftness. Its ending leaves something to be desired - it's too vague for a movie so fully realized - but "Ghost World" is one of the best coming-of-age films ever made.
Enid (Thora Birch): Aren't you going to get that?
Seymour (Steve Buschemi): Let the machine get it. I have no desire to talk to anyone who might be calling me.
The beauty of indie flicks is most of the film's stars are genuinely talented or only the really talented ones do it. This was no exception-- great cast, interesting story and overall very satisfying ending. It was pretty good.
Both Birch and Johansson function as great avatars for bitter middle aged guys like Clowes (or myself), finding fault with the idiot culture that has seemed to thrive more and more in the past 30 years.
It is impossible to understand how Thora Birch failed to become a major actor and Scarlett Johansson did. Johansson is clearly a talented actor, but there is always a vaguely passive doe-eye'd boredom conveyed in almost every role she plays. Here this is a perfect match for Birch's rebellious and inappropriate character.
There is an ever-present cruelty hiding within Enid. It is never clearly explored, but seems to be tied to her childhood. It doesn't really matter. It is to Birch's credit that we can actually relate to her and her often bad choices.
Steve Buscemi is an amazingly unique and effective film actor. I don't think I've ever seen an actress who manages to create a chemistry with him as effective as in this movie.
As Enid burns her bridges and stubbornly holds true to her identity be it for better or worse, Thora Birch is able to build her character so well that we follow her. We may not totally understand her choices. But as the film comes to its close, her logic takes on a sad reality.
There is a great deal more going on in the haunting film than first appears. This is an entertaining, magical and surprisingly dark film. A Must See.