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Movies that criticise the world can fall into many traps, leaving the viewer
to feel jaded by the film's experience. Ghost World's witty appraisal of
'America' successfully avoids being childishly caustic or self-important and
thus emerges as one of the best films of 2001. We sympathise with Enid (the
luscious Thora Birch) without being expected to completely believe that her
cynical world-view is necessarily the right one. Enid's (and her best-friend
Rebecca's)negativity is turned on all around them, and their obsessive need
to be cool but on their own terms sees them take post-modernism to its
Enid's bizarre costume choices mean that she stands out from the rest of her baggy-panted generation, and in one scene is infuriated that no-one, even Rebecca, understands her 'original 1977 punk look' she's testing out.
The fact that we should not fully empathise with Enid is shown by the contrasting character arc of Rebecca. There is a definite sense that she grows up over the course of the movie, but not in a "what have we learned about life" Disney way. Perhaps she has sold out to the conservative ideals that seemed so repulsive to them at the beginning of the movie, but just as Enid ultimately fulfils her desires, so does Becky live out her 'seventh grade fantasy'. The important thing is not the choices people make, but whether they make choices with which they are happy.
The movie's main targets are people who betray themselves in an effort to fit in, and their resulting stupidity by doing so. But the people who have remained true to their values (like Steve Buscemi's Seymour, in a performance that should have been at least nominated for an Academy Award), are portrayed as leading equally vacuous lives. Seymour's infrequent attempts to achieve 'normality' are galling for us to observe, and near soul-destroying for him to experience.
This is an excellent movie. Thora Birch gives her most confident performance to date, and Scarlett Johansson is superbly laconic as Enid's icy side-kick. The supporting cast all shine. Strongly recommended!
I guess different people can extract different meanings from GHOST
WORLD and all nail exactly why it was made. For me, it was the
chronicle of that small group of people who don't, and probably never
will, quite fit into this world. They're here on the fringes though,
just existing in their own parallel universe, or their own "ghost
world." Though it sounds depressing, this film is hardly a downer, it's
full of humor, satire and acute observations on life. The overall
production is excellent (the brightness and colors in the photography,
costumes and sets is stunning)... plus it pulls off the impossible by
successfully steering toward dead-on seriousness near the conclusion to
drive it's point across.
It begins at graduation with Enid (Thora Birch) and Rebecca (Scarlett Johansson), two very perceptive high school outcasts who see right through the facade of their juvenile peers and want nothing to do with it. For Rebecca this self-ostracizing is just a passing phasing, but for Enid you get the strong impression this is going to always be her way of life. It's not that she doesn't get it, it's that she's doesn't understand IT or people or the games of life. There's a brief emotional turning point for Enid when a cruel practical joke backfires and she becomes involved with the target, the nerdy and very sardonic Seymour (Steve Buscemi), who may just be the kindred spirit Enid was looking for. The shared scenes between Enid and Seymour, though doomed to take a bad turn, are handled with tenderness by the director and actors and are quite memorable and touching.
Highlights are an excellent scene in a blues club that just about nails the American outlook on life and our lack of reverence and the ones in Enid's remedial art class, with the most misguided and pretentious teacher (Illeana Douglas) you could imagine. The girls are wonderful, and Steve Buscemi was unfairly overlooked at awards time (big shocker). Anyway, he's never been this good before. The fact this premise, these ideas and these original and interesting characters came from a comic book makes me realize I've completely overlooked the artistic possibilities within that medium.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Ghost World is a brilliant film in my opinion. Why? Just look at the
message board and the comments on this website. It's amazing how much
people have taken from this movie, especially a relatively lesser known
When I first watched this movie, it was a revelation. It was just that good of a movie. The characters, the story, the location all of it was just perfect.
Many people have related to this movie because of its "coming-of-age" or "just out of high school" aspect, and they are true in describing this movie in those terms. But what I really thought was great was how this movie, to me, was about the search for something meaningful and more importantly for Enid, something "real", especially more so in our often contrived and plastic modern world.
That's where "Ghost World" comes in. It is described as so because if you look at the setting of the movie, you can not really tell where in the United States it takes place in. It could be virtually any one of the suburban areas that has sprung up in the past couple of decades. It's true that there is a great deal of comfort and leisure, but at the same time there is a lack of soul. Its not the big city, where they try to emulate its culture and activities, nor the small town, where they try to emulate its sense of tranquility and community, but rather a facade of both, ending up being none. No one is truly happy, yet everyone puts a smile on, and that is what really bothers Enid, I believe. Its a world where sterile hip-hop music is used to celebrate a high school graduation, authentic 50s diners are anything but, and a white "blues" band sing about picking cotton all day long for the man. All contrived, all far removed from its source, all as real as a slushie from the Sidewinder food store.
After all why is she attracted to Seymour? I don't think because he's the dorky record collector with a sour outlook on life, but because he is honest about it. He's not a stuffy collector who claims to know everything, but a guy with a passion for something, even if it isn't something "cool". Even with the Coon Chicken incident you can see that its sincerity that Enid is searching for. Enid is not a racist but she picks the Coon Chicken ad for her art project because it reflects how little society has have not changed, even if it whitewashed itself. Like Seymour said people still hate each other but they hide it better.
Rebecca on the other hand seems to have accepted that society and life at large kinda sucks, so she "sells out" by working at the coffee shop, which is an obvious Starbuck's knock off. But in my opinion, she just realized that she can't change the world and how it is, so she goes on a different road from Enid's. A scene which highlights this is when she shows a liking for brightly colored glasses for her new apartment, while Enid gawks at her for being overtly excited for cups. But who's to say that Rebecca is wrong for liking those cups? How is it different from Seymour's fascination of 75s? Rebecca may have changed some throughout the movie, but at her core she remains to be the cynical and independent person that she is.
Finally, Enid goes away from it all, fulfilling her desire to one day to disappear from it all, because it seems that she can not rely on anyone, not even Norman the bus bench guy. Rebecca is working most of the time, her father is marrying the person she dreads (showing a disinterest or plain aloofness in Enid's life), her art teacher is a talentless hack who doesn't really care for her (or any of her students really, even though she pretends to) since she didn't fight for her after the art show debacle and Seymour disappointed her twice. First by dating a person whom he knows is not his type, yet he conforms to her (literally, just look at those tight jeans she bought him!) and secondly becoming overtly renewed in his relationship with Enid only after a night where Enid and Seymour took their relationship to bed(with a help of a bottle of champagne.
Did Enid commit suicide in the end? Personally I don't think so, it would be such a surrealistic end to a story that is steeped in realism, but that is another reason why Ghost World is such a great movie. There is such an open space for interpretation and such depth that one can talk about it for hours, discussing about it and getting more out it with every viewing of the movie. There's a whole lot more than what I just wrote about, but I don't want to bore you with my interpretation, and there are other things in the movie that other people see in it that I might have missed or disagree with.
But thats a mark of a good movie. Just look at the message board for yourself.
GHOST WORLD / (2001) **** (out of four)
For those of us who tire of standard teen movies, here's the film to brighten our day. It's a monkey wrench in the cranks of the tedious genre that features actors in their mid-twenties portraying stereotypical high-school characters shamelessly indulging predictable plots of frivolous romance. Where most movies set in high schools find resolve in romantics, "Ghost World" dares to be different.
Yet it contains all the usual ingredients-aimless main characters, one-dimensional side characters, high school graduation, moronic parents, sexual revelations, a romance-but it tastes different. This movie doesn't believe high school is the root of youth complications; it knows that school isn't where the confusion lies-it's after graduation when the complexities begin.
The movie opens as a high school senior dances along with a music video. Sounds like a typical teenager? Well, not really. The music this girl listens to isn't exactly mainstream. Nothing about Enid (Thora Birch from "American Beauty") is ordinary.
The same goes for her best friend, Rebecca (Scarlett Johansson). She is slightly more focused than the aimless Enid, but, as they graduate from high school in the opening scenes, neither of them know what they want out of life.
Rebecca and Enid find interesting people to follow, exploit, and embarrass, just for their own leisure, but even this loses its edge. Making the most (or least) of their situation, the girls stumble upon an outstandingly pathetic personal ad. As a joke, they respond. However, when they meet this man, Enid becomes infatuated with him.
In their post high school days, Enid and Rebecca find themselves slowly drifting apart. Rebecca is eager to get an apartment and get on with her life, while Enid lives by the day, following one infatuation after another. As their attitudes gradually change from cynical to sober, Enid and Rebecca's emerging differences become blatantly obvious, but painfully realized.
"Ghost World" refers to the world in which these characters live, a town slowly being overcome by shopping malls and coffee shops; a town that slowly loses its distinctions and becomes a ghost of what it once was.
My small town of Mason, MI speaks for itself. Once a minuscule farming suburb of the state's capital, it's now a breeding ground for new subdivisions, factories, stores, gas stations, trailer parks, and businesses. Before you know it, it will be a densely populated city like the capital itself.
"Ghost World" makes harsh points, but it never loses its sense of humor. Enid is so full of bitter cynicism that we have to laugh. She indulges the dialogue. It's often tactlessly frank, savoring every opportunity to bash, thrash, ridicule, or insult anyone or anything for any reason.
Society tends to repress our caustic desire to insult a fellow man, but "Ghost World" doesn't hesitate. It takes a lot of risks, but never steps in the wrong direction. It connects us with these characters. They are so casually antisocial that we can't help but to love them. At times, the movie doesn't require dialogue. It simply examines the character's surroundings. We get to know these people so well, we know exactly what they're thinking before they say it. They are a part of our instincts to react on impulse.
But a character is only as good as the actor behind it. "Ghost World" features enormously engaging performances. Brad Renfro gives his nobody store clerk a raw blandness. Illeana Douglas injects a kind of controlled eccentricity into her role as an art teacher. Steve Buscemi creates a hopeless record player collector out of repressed emotion, and lack thereof.
Scarlett Johansson gives Rebecca a dry, depressed mood. Thora Birch steals the whole show with a straightforward, fearless performance. Although the movie never defines the relationship between Enid and Rebecca, the actors themselves make it clear. They create an enticing charisma that gradually turns to an awkward tension.
"Ghost World" captures part of our journey from childhood to adulthood with poetic grace and cynical wit. Though it's not really a coming-of-age film, where a young character finally takes a place in the world. Enid never finds her place, decides her future, or chooses a path. By the end of the story, she simply becomes aware of her possible options. This movie is just the beginning of her story.
Best friends Enid and Rebecca graduate from high school and find themselves
forced to enter the real world. Enid (more than Rebecca) is a
counter-culture rebel who hates this world of frauds and losers, and she
subsequently has trouble getting and keeping a job. One day the girls decide
to play a prank on a lonely middle-aged loser named Seymour. Their plan
backfires, though, and Enid becomes a little obsessed with the man. First
she feels sorry for Seymour, then he becomes something of a hero to her, and
she resolves to help him at least find a girlfriend. "Maybe I just can't
stand the thought of a world where a guy like you can't get a date," she
tells him. Meanwhile, Enid seems to be avoiding the challenge of getting her
own life started.
Terry Zwigoff ("Crumb") directs this film based on a script by Dan Clowes, who also created the original comic book. "Ghost World" attempts to be a kitsch-free, counter-culture coming-of-age film, and for the most part it succeeds. The characters are very believable, honest, and engaging. The downbeat Seymour is played wonderfully by Steve Buscemi, and Thora Birch in her striking performance as Enid follows up her "American Beauty" role with another discontent but sympathetic misfit teen character. Perhaps the greatest disappointment in "Ghost World," however, is that Scarlett Johansson as Rebecca is marginalized midway through the film. Regarding the story: It is debatable whether the film is entirely free of kitsch. As with "American Beauty," the sudden romantic opportunities which fall into Seymour's lap smell suspiciously of middle-aged wish fulfillment. Also, one might ask for a slightly tighter ending, as the film finishes without much resolution--except for one rather simple but touching scene between Enid and Seymour. On the whole, however, the film is a delight, producing some very memorable characters to whom, in the end, the audience will be sorry to say goodbye.
I love this movie. It is so simple. Just an episode from the lives of
two girls who have just finished high school. Nothing fancy, nothing
spectacular, or unusual. Just a situation that we've all been through,
but shown through a different set of eyes.
The performances by Thora Birch, Scarlett Johansson (hottie), and Steve Buscemi are very good and the story is heart warming and often very funny.
Movies like this are seldom and Hollywood tends to make it's films unnecessarily spectacular these days. It sometimes works, but is often quite ridiculous. Think - Michael Bay.
This is film is highly recommended to anyone who cares about life. 10/10
Rated R: profanity
Two female high school grads plan to get jobs and hang together, but bonds become frayed and paths separate after one of the girls ends up on an unintended journey of self-discovery. From the comic-book which takes a perverse delight in celebrating the geeky side of all of us, "Ghost World" is profane and cynical, but also surprisingly blithe and bright. I rather enjoyed it but realize it's not for every taste. Thora Birch and Scarlett Johansson are incredibly rich and vivid in their roles (low-keyed, deadpan, but not blanks); their love-hate friendship is convincing and blessedly free of melodramatics--even they seem to cherish the personality conflicts that come up, it may give them more ammunition. As for the ending, I'm not sure whether it is ingenious or a cop-out, but it did leave me touched (in a bemused, nostalgic way). A movie with much to offer. ***1/2 from ****
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Two high school outcasts (Thora Birch and Scarlett Johansson) graduate and it appears that the duo will continue to be best friends. They seek out work and a place to live, but before that they go around and make fun of seemingly everyone around them. The situations are quirky and hilarious, but soon they pull a prank on a lonely man (Steve Buscemi) that leaves Birch feeling sorry for the stranger. Thus Birch, with Johansson in tow, decide to meet Buscemi and the results are mixed at best. However the strangest of relationships starts as Birch makes it a goal to find a woman that Buscemi can date. Meanwhile Johansson accepts what she must do and starts to work at a local Starbucks. Birch, totally unsure of what she wants to do with her life (both personally and professionally), begins to drift away from her best friend just as Buscemi finds a woman he likes (Stacy Travis). Oddly Birch becomes jealous of this development and does her best to keep Buscemi single and miserable (like herself obviously). Birch struggles through with all this plus a home-life that she dislikes as her father (the priceless Bob Balaban) starts to re-create a relationship with a woman that she has always hated (the uncredited Teri Garr in a short cameo). She also spends her days taking a remedial art class so she can indeed finalize her high school diploma. "Ghost World" is an immensely interesting experience as Birch (best known for "American Beauty") and Johansson (who is an amazing young talent, just think "Lost in Translation") are totally believable as youngsters with quiet angst and sadness issues. Their slow divergence as the film progresses is a hard thing to view because you know that neither want that. Buscemi is amazing as a loner who mirrors the two youngsters (Birch in particular). Co-writers Terry Zwigoff (who also directed) and Daniel Clowes received Oscar nominations for a script that was actually adapted from a comic book (no kidding). This is a wonderfully smart and poignant black comedy that is arguably the best production from the teen genre. It is to the 2000s what "Rebel Without a Cause" was to the 1950s and what "American Graffiti" was to the 1970s. There are also shades of Bob Rafelson's "Five Easy Pieces" here. An under-rated and exceptional gem. 4.5 out of 5 stars.
Terry Zwigoff has created an excellent parable about disaffected youth
in "Ghost World". The character of Enid (memorably played by Thora
Birch) is a sardonic iconoclast, and a bit of a hero to me. She has her
own style, speaks her razor sharp mind, and truly doesn't care what
people think about her. Picture a female, proactive version of Holden
Caulfield. I desperately wish I were more like Enid when I was in high
Enid's partner in crime is Rebecca (Scarlett Johannson), who has one foot in the offbeat world Enid inhabits, and the other foot in the mainstream world Enid loathes. Rebecca's one of those types who never seem to mean what they're saying, not because of dishonesty, but because of lack of self-knowledge and security. When these two pals start to drift apart after they graduate from high school, Enid latches on to champion loser Seymour (Steve Buschemi, who seems to live for these kinds of roles), a devoted record collector. Through one long, seemingly uneventful summer, Enid takes a good look at the world around her, and a painful series of events force her to find her own place in it.
I adored this anti-"teen movie", and it was so refreshing to see a heroine who wasn't a blandly blonde, pool cue shaped cheerleader who spouted out adorable one-liners. Enid is a proud loner and rebel, who wears her crazy wardrobe and Truman Capote glasses with pride. Zwigoff never allows the movie to be Hollywood saccharine or indie film depressing. It's full of realistic, human characters we've all known at one time or another. I was further amazed by how true to life "Ghost World" is. Nothing in the film turns out the way you expect it to, but, really, isn't that just the same as life?
"We graduated from high school. How totally amazing", says a sarcastic
Enid Coleslaw (Thora Birch, in the best performance of her career), at
the beginning of "Ghost World". Enid and her best friend, Rebecca (a 15
year-old Scarlett Johansson) discuss how much they longed for their
graduation day, and when it finally came, it wasn't as cheerful as they
were expecting. While Rebecca finds a job and tries to move on, Enid
doesn't know what to do with her life and spends most of her time with
Seymour (Steve Buscemi, playing the most humane variation of all the
'losers' he's been playing his whole life, and that's why he's so great
at it), a lonely older man whose biggest pleasure is collecting rare,
The more I watch "Ghost World", the more I like it. This is a very special, really beautiful film, that speaks to the heart. It's both hilarious (really one of the funniest films I've ever seen - Enid's yard sale, her first day of work at a movie theater, just to name a couple of favourite scenes, crack me up every time) and moving, with a bittersweet feel to it that's underlined by David Kitay's musical theme. Terry Zwigoff's ("Crumb") script, co-written by Daniel Clowes based on his own comic books, has a remarkable respect for its characters, most of them adorable and pathetic at once - including Josh (Brad Renfro), a boy Enid and Rebecca love to mess around with. One week ago, when I was re-watching this movie with some friends who had never seen it, we commented on how miserable Josh is - and how sad it was to hear about Renfro's premature death a few days later.
If you ever felt lost in your own world, not knowing what do with your life, you're gonna relate to this film. The feeling I get from it is a little similar to THAT other film with Scarlett Johansson, the sublime "Lost in Translation". For me, any movie as sincere and well crafted as "Ghost World" and "Lost in Translation" is a classic, and deserves a spot on my all-time favourites' list. 10/10.
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