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In high school, I knew Enid and Rebecca-types. My friend's older
brother was and still is, eerily similar to Seymour. Even Dougs can be
found in every strip mall parking lot in Anytown, U.S.A.
The characters in Ghost World are exceptional in that they reflect people that are ubiquitous in real life. Rebels, geeks, superficial people, lonely divorcees, obscure music buffs, solitary and bitter adults - this is our movie.
The actors were truly lucky to work from such a phenomenal script written by Daniel Clowes, who illustrated and wrote the graphic novel that the movie is based on, and Terry Zwigoff, director of the requisite 1999 artist-documentary, Crumb. Zwigoff was also at the helm of the unapologetically anti-Christmas movie, Bad Santa.
Thora Birch and Scarlett Johansson pulled off something truly rare in movies - completely believable and relatable teenagers. There is not a single, typical mention or scene of binge beer-drinking or marijuana-smoking here - like I said, Ghost World is rare and unique in staying away from perpetually rehashed teen-comedy archetypes.
Thora Birch especially stands out as the cynically dry-humored, plucky, and lackadaisical Enid. Her breakthrough role in American Beauty, which came out two years before Ghost World, is proof of her acting chops brilliantly developing right before our eyes; bright, reserved and subtle, like a calcified silver charm. You'll see a more extroverted, stylish, and sexually liberated girl, who forms an unlikely friendship with Seymour, a man twice her age.
Steve Buscemi fits the character of Seymour like an oily rubber glove. He's of course worked with the best (Coen Brothers, Quentin Tarantino, Tim Burton, David Chase, Terence Winter, etc.), and Buscemi is wonderfully cast here, breathing life into his Seymour character with aplomb.
Honorable mentions go to Illeana Douglas as the school's delightfully pretentious art teacher, Bob Balaban as Enid's spineless father, and the late Brad Renfro, as her friend Josh. Dave Sheridan deserves special mention, as the corner-store loitering redneck Doug, and will make you double over in laughter. Also, if you're into classic 80's comedies such as Tootsie and Young Frankenstein, keep your eyes open for a cameo by a talented and popular actress from that era. I won't ruin the surprise, but it was an absolute pleasure seeing her again.
We know these people. They made impressions on us when we struggled to make the difficult transition into adulthood, desperately clinging to a truthful existence. I too grew up in Anytown, U.S.A., which was a ghostly existence , devoid of substantial heroes to look up to, and meaningful, lasting friendships to pave the way. There is however a silver lining - we are not alone by circumstance, but by our own free will.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I was not really looking forward to see this because I knew that it
would not be your average pop corn flick, but still I could not help
but be intrigued because I had heard so many great things about it.
My low expectations were put to shame five minutes into the movie's running time. It starts with Thora Birch and Scarlett Johansson commenting about how uncool they think everything is. I could immediately identify with the kind of denigrating attitude towards the world that they have. Certainly, many of the people I hung out with in high school had that same attitude, including myself to some degree.
Add to that, a remarkable performance by Steve Buscemi, one of my favorite actors. I don't think anybody could have plays Seymour better. He is a nerd and he knows it and until he meets Birch's character, Enid, he is actually pretty comfortable with it. Seymour is a sympathetic character, not one Buscemi get to play very often, but he is really terrific. His scenes with Birch are sweet but not so much to make you hurl (I don't know where that came from).
Scarlett Johansson's part is more underwritten but even in the few important scenes she has, she is able to convey the changes she goes through.
Even the smallest part have some kind of edge to them, like the man sitting at a discontinued bus stop and the manager at the convenience store (Seinfeld guest star, Brian George). The always great Bob Balaban has two or three hilarious scenes as Enid's father trying to connect with her and failing miserably.
This is definitely an actor's picture but the director, Terry Swigoff does a good job of not overdoing it with clever dialog and weird camera angles and still making the film as close to mainstream film-making as you can get and still make it feel like an independent movie. Look at the picture, Storytelling, for a complete opposite side to independent film-making.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The film immediately alludes to the lameness of present day American
high school with a biting, brilliant parody of a "matricuLATION" fair
well dance, and afterwards a (pretentious but charming) flip-off to it
all. Also I think a comment on the paucity of talent/laughable
unoriginal idiocy of new-age hip-hop style pop singers, and how it
influences the culture which our two main characters, Enid and Rebecca,
are now decidedly leaving behind.
The introduction of Enid (Thora Berch) is lively, fun and although it certainly doesn't pertain to the rest of the more downbeat yet hurmourous film, it's a statement that shows people can be outcasts and still have fun. They're not all boring. Geeks that is.
Continual social references to American suburban outcasts are made, from the hilarious red-neck, borderline psychotic nun-chuck man, to the disgruntled, morose convenient store clerk. All characters are introduced amusingly, something which we don't see very often.
You get the genuine, convincing impression that the two female leads are going to be "friends 4 ever", but that it's more than just an immature, nonsensical teenage relationship. What they share is a mocking contempt for their peers and society in general.
There's few like them at first. That is until after we start the journey, finding the ultra-geek and music fan Seymour (played by the sublime Steve Buscemi) who it sort of a proving-ground for their views. Enid really is a geek, whilst Rebecca (played by the amazingly cute Scarlett Johansson) is normal. Instead of hanging around with and eventually sleeping with people like Seymour, Rebecca gets a -- gasp --day job. This cuts Rebecca out of the main story of the film, she is no longer one of them, becoming instead the outcast of the writers' Terry Zwigoff's (also director) and Daniel Clowes's world. This is the first of two mistakes of what is overall a flawed masterpiece.
Due to Johansson's talent I believe more of a role could of been made for her. I would have liked to of seen into her everyday boring world for more than just a few brief scenes. As a sort of comparison to Enid's alternative geek twilight zone. Rebecca's boring day job world can also have its high moments, just like Enid's geeky art-driven one does. They should have shown additional examples other than the ones they gave. This is a testament to the amazing actress rather than the writing, but they could have commented on down-to-earth views of life in Johansson's world.
The second of my perceived mistakes is the abrupt ending: But what happens next I ask. She's escaping to what exactly? Probably to a boring day job like Rebecca's is. I believe of course this was to leave a sense of romance for the overall story, as she so does want the world to be more mysterious (the very funny porn shop!) and original (Seymour.) Showing this would have made it mundane, but the world would have some more realistic depth. When she finds it isn't so wonderful and the beauty/interest is lost she's leaving, possibly in hope of something better. Maybe to see a Seymour more her own age. It's an ambiguous and haunting ending, the specter-bus arriving to finally take her away from the disappointment. There just could have the contrast to Enid's world. However it's still about as good as films get and I love it.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I completely identified with the characters and situations presented in
film on many
levels. The acting was superb and in general it was well written and
original. For this
reason I am thoroughly surprised at just how much I hated this movie.
I think that somehow I must have missed something, that deep inside there must have been a message or some profound fascinating inner meaning. I found none. I suppose I would recommend the film, it was at least worth renting, however I think watching Requiem for a Dream was a less depressing experience. If only Ghost World's heroine Enid had as much common sense as the heroin addicts in Requiem for a Dream, the story may have resolved a great deal differently.
And yes, I `caught' all the symbolism in it, but honestly, is that any way to end a film? Furthermore, is that any way to end anything? How does running away from your problems solve them? And what happened to all the other characters' problems, was anything resolved in the end? I think the fact that it actually had to say "The End" is proof enough that the ending was pretty lame. But I'll stop nitpicking at the smaller aspects of the film, like the totally unacceptable ending, the obnoxious stereotype characters and the dry barely present humor. My largest problem with the film was that it was trying to be a masterpiece; it was like the movie was supposed to be some magnificent form of art. It's a film with a superiority complex. Well, I've finished my rant, do understand, I'm not saying you won't like this film; I'm just saying I thought it was incomplete... and generally annoying.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Terry Zwigoff directs "Ghost World". The plot? Thora Birch and Scarlett
Johansson play Enid and Rebecca, two moody teenagers who deem others to
be phony and contrived; everyone belongs to a clique or a group, and
all these groups are seen, by the girls, to be devoid of any worthwhile
The film is comprised of three very broad sections. Its first act consists of our duo snidely critiquing the world around them. Filtered through their angsty eyes, everything is devoid of value and people lack sophistication, filling their times with banal activities, much hypocrisy and pointless gestures. Time and time again, characters are shown to lack depth, lacking even the most basic appreciation for knowledge, quality or craftsmanship.
Enid and Rebecca, of course, believe themselves to be different. Elitist, snobbish and aloof, they're also somewhat right, budding artists who constantly observe and chart what goes on around them. This acute perception, however, makes them sick. If ignorance is bliss, how can these two enlightened teens exist in a world so unenlightened and vacuous? Plato called art and philosophy the highest occupations precisely because they are profoundly useless. It's only via understanding and observing, he said, that man is able to elevate himself above the routines of animal life. The downside is, self-reflexivity can engender ghost-like isolation and elitism. Eventually the quest for understanding can lead to an outright disidetification with the herd, as well as alienation and depression, which is the passage which Zwigoff's heroes undergo.
After college, Enid and Rebecca are thus faced with an important question. What next? How do they function in this world and where do they go? Rebecca's answer is to throw away her artistic sensibilities and adopt a more practical view of life. She gets a job, buys an apartment and becomes, in Enid's eyes, just another faceless peon. She just wants to be normal. This is paradoxically seen as both a step forward into adulthood and a regressive step back into childishness. Yes Rebecca "grows up" and assumes adult responsibilities, Enid thinks, but her responsibilities are based on a child's view of what an adult should be. In one great shot, Rebecca stands before an ironing board, her transformation into womanhood complete. But she's so wrapped up in actually getting on with life, that she hasn't the time or inclination to stop and ponder the monster she's become. But is Enid any more mature? And so Enid sulks. She can't accept Rebecca's blissful ignorance. She needs to find something else. But what? The answer, of course, seems to be in signing up to an art college. Isn't this where all morose, sensitive outcasts go? But no, even this art class seems like pretentious, hypocritical nonsense. Like Holden Caulfield, poor Enid rejects it all.
The second act of the film deals with Enid falling in love with Seymore, played by Steve Buscemi. He's a middle aged man who lives in the past, collecting old records and antiques. "You think this is healthy," he says, "I can't connect with people so I fill my life with this stuff." The film's big irony is that everyone collects and does routine stuff, Seymore and Enid just have an awareness of why it's done. Self-reflection suffocates.
Unsurprisingly, the film incessantly rants against pop culture. The radio annoys Seymore, with it's constant advertising and pompous DJs. "I feel like I'm being jabbed in the face," he says and earlier in the film, a customer moans at a video store clerk for not stocking Fellini's 8 ½ (yet the store has the Kim Basinger sex film 9 ½ weeks). There's some other subtle symbolism in the film: Enid constantly tries to latch on to past fashion trends and musical genres, Enid tries desperately to create an identity for herself, an outdated pair of Levis always seems to be strewn on the sidewalk, there are two garage sales yet the same record is sold in each etc etc.
It's also interesting that Enid and Rebecca are only sexually attracted to specific types of boys. At the start of the film, Enid sympathises with a guy called Dennis and both girls are attracted to another kid called Josh. Why? Because both these guys have that genuine rarity of being exactly what they appear to be. No pretence. No attempts to be cool. Even though Dennis is a dweeb, he isn't trying to be anything else. And Josh, a dishevelled kid, seems open and honest. The girls feel a connection because these kids represent some form of authenticity.
The last act of the film deals with Enid trying to set Seymore up on a date. Symbolically, she understands that if she can get an outcast like Seymore to function in society, then maybe there is hope for her too. Unfortunately, Seymore's relationship with his date falls apart. Enid, feeling hopeless, thus hops on board a bus. She wants to leave town, maybe even travel the world in the hopes of finding herself or something she can rationalise latching onto. One can view this ending with optimism, but it's also naive to assume that Enid's internal "problem" can be solved by changing her external surroundings. The film thus ends on very much the same note as George Lucas' "American Graffeti", the artist flying away, a sense of sad possibility lingering in the air.
Aesthetically the film is simply, but well shot; like a live action version of MTV's "Daria". The tone is quirky and light, but Zwigoff's a good enough artist to recognise the weight of his drama.
8.5/10- Terry Zwigoff has made 3 pretty great films thus far ("Bad Santa", "Ghost World" and "Crumb"). See too "American Graffiti", "Ratatouille", "Harold and Maude", Lumet's "Running on Empty" and "The Wanderers".
this film did and did not work. it evoked very real feelings of what it is like to be young and lost, what it is to be unknowingly abandoning things which held so much meaning for one once. but as a narrative and emotive piece, it continuously cheated, covering things up so that the audience was confused and lead along on a leash, only to discover facts about the characters had been obscured just to make the end more dramatic, to force the plot to keep moving. and it left one asking, why? in the end it just felt like self important tripe, tripe which invoked many real and painful feelings about the nature of existence, but still fundamentally tripe. and scarlett johansen cannot act.
(Originally reviewed: 09/03/2017) While some of the dialogue didn't
land with me early on, by the end I was amazed at how well made this
picture is, and at the same time utterly engaging. The picture focuses
well on its characters, and the actors go out there and shine; Thora
Birch plays Enid a sarcastic but interesting young lady and she helps
Seymour played brilliantly by Steve Buscemi with his romantic life as
the film progresses after realising her practical joke on him was not
funny and leaves her feeling bad about it; this leads her to
continuously hang out with him and help him get a woman that he will
hope to have a lasting relationship with; but she must also balance her
relationship with her best friend Rebecca, played very well by the
talented Scarlett Johansson; and this is merely one plot point in an
all-round complex character comedy-drama that knows exactly how to be
both original and well made.
Terry Zwigoff directed the picture, rather well might I add and also helped write the screenplay which is refreshing and almost always compelling, kudos to Daniel Crowes who co-wrote it as well, these two have done a competent job in creating something memorable along with the cast of course. The cinematography and look of the picture are also fascinating as well as the supporting cast which includes Steve Buscemi, Bob Balaban (Enid's father), Brad Renfro (Josh), Ileana Douglas (Roberta) and that crazy hillbilly who kept appearing at the shop, thinking being shirtless and blasting off rock music extremely loud whilst practicing nunchaku's was a normal American thing; this character was very amusing.
The comic writing for the most part is welcome, fresh and quite funny, along with some smart dialogue and an originally well-crafted ending that is memorable in its own way. Overall Ghost World is a near perfect picture made with originality and precision, it's a film that makes you feel something for the character's and care about them; it's well acted, impressive and a remarkable film.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
First I thought this is a typical 2000's teenage movie that's going to
annoy me. It starts with high school prom, cheesy dialogue, annoying
childish characters, the lonely hearts' coming-of-age problems. I was
about to turn it off, but it turns out to become a quirky story about
the phoniness and fakeness of society. About finding your place in this
world, about conformity to stereotypes, either on the fringe or the
center of society. With the two girls you can see that Thora and
Scarlett end up on two the different sides of this spectrum - and Thora
is constantly changing her look, so she's not very sure about where on
the fringe she exactly wants to be (Punk, Goth etc.). The only guy that
operates out of this spectrum is Buscemi's character. First Thora makes
fun of him but the blues vinyl she bought from him makes her realize
he's true to himself and his interests. In the run of the movie she
discovers that he's probably the only one who is not fake (except
during his brief dating phase) - fake like all humans, whitewashing,
phony and "better at hiding the fact that they hate each other" than
Not a perfect movie as it is very slowly paced and a bit flat sometimes. But it is as cynical as it is quirky and yet at it's core it is surprisingly relatable. The human race is strange and yet you want to be a part of it.
Reviewed April 2012
Though treads on a familiar path, never come across a teen movie with so much wit and introspection into teen angst and all of this done in a surprisingly lighter tone.
Enid (Thora Birch) and Becky (Scarlett Johansson) are childhood friends who just finished high school and are planning to move into an apartment. Both are mischievous and rebellious, Enid more than Becky and decides to call on a personal ad what seemed to be from a lonely man. They ask the ad placer to come to a specific restaurant and enjoy the disappointment of the man one Seymour (Steve Buscemi) who waits and leaves. Enid gets interested in Seymour and gets to know him and becomes friends. On her personal front, she is conflicted with her own ideas and makes some poor decisions making her lose the scholarship, Becky, Seymour's friendship and a chance to move into the apartment. How she copes with all this forms the entire story.
Without knowing anything about the movie the initial 15 minutes hinted this as a girl version of Superbad. It changes soon getting more intimate on what is happening in a teenager's mind who is resorting to pride when there is a feeling of being left out. Scarlett Johansson looks stunning but she does not have a lot of role here as Thora Birch is the star. Though there is no scope here for great acting, she does a terrific job portraying the troubled teenager. The director deals with this delicate subject with steady and confident hands never toning down the spirit of a teenager. Buscemi does his character with ease as a lonely weird stranger.
Never boring or awkward (as most teenage movies tend to), tells a simple story in the most effective way it is possible to.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
When I first saw this movie as a kid I had no idea what this movie was
about. Just thought the title "Ghost World" made it seem like a fun
movie. I thought maybe it would be something similar to movies like
"Pleasantville". With the two girls dealing with supernatural
activities in a very awkward manner. However this movie is about two
awkward hipster girls in a strange suburban area. These are the most
cynical female duo that see the negative in just about everytthing
while constantly judging others. Especially the girl named Enid. They
basically go around putting people down that is almost as depressed as
they are. While trying to diminish others from having a bit of hope.
Because they are sad about their own existence. Kind of like some of
the groups out there that puts out some of the most illogical causes.
While trying to put others down for trying to achieve just about
anything and thus go around acting like they are superior to everyone
else. Watching this movie was like watching acts that can make you very
hated by others. From the girl duo, I especially disliked the girl
Enid. She is even mean to her only hipster friend Rebecca and tries to
drag her down as well. You know those people that claim to be your
friend but is the biggest anchor on your side. Well that is Enid in
this film. Watching this movie was like watching the journey of one of
the most annoying female leads ever and yet it's engaging. Mainly
because of the bizarre style of it all and it's direction. How it
doesn't compliments and endorse the actions of the lead but you kind of
feel bad for her in the end to a degree. Although she is a anchor, her
only friends are insecure people like herself. She is a character that
bashes on things she find childish, but isn't ready for adulthood
either and wants to grasp on to her childhood despite it all. It even
shows the biased actions of a radical feminist teacher to kind of show
the similaries between the two. Although this film does get a bit
annoying after-awhile with it's constant showing of mockery and
hypocrisy. This is a watchable movie about a girl that is running from
herself and wants to be anyone but herself. I did like the subtle
messages around the imagery and characters with their motives and why
they do the things they do.
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