Ghost World

Rated: R
Stars: Thora Birch, Scarlett Johansson, Steve Buscemi, David Cross, Illeana Douglas, Brad Renfro
Director: Terry Zwigoff
Writers: Daniel Clowes, Terry Zwigoff, from a novel-length comic book by Daniel Clowes,

Half comedy, half-drama, this is an offbeat and poignant tale of people trying to connect and find their places in the world. It follows two girls (Thora Birch as Enid and Scarlett Johansson as Rebecca) who spend their summer out of high school contemplating their futures. To them, neither the world nor the people in it have much going for them. The script presents a smart character-driven tale with a glowing performance by Steve Buscemi as Seymour, a middle-aged loser, befriended by one of them.

Cynical and irreverent, the girls’ days are spent knocking the people around them while they maintain a self-imposed distance to anything ordinary. They think they’re hip. Rebecca’s the more normal of the two, trying desperately to land a job so she and Enid can move in together. Enid’s too kooky for words, all done up in 70’s punk clothing, clunky Dr. Martens, thick glasses and varying hair colors. She’s forced to attend a summer session art class and even though she gets some pleasure from her drawings, she doesn’t even take that seriously. These girls couldn’t be happy if they tried.

One afternoon, they’re so bored that they decide to play a trick on a hapless fellow who posts an ad in the personals. That would be Seymour. They set up a date at a local diner then sit and watch him squirm when his date never shows. They even follow him home to see how pathetic he is. But for some reason, Enid’s conscience gets the better of her. She feels bad about the joke and takes an unusual interest in Seymour’s life. What she discovers surprises her. He’s not quite as pathetic as they first thought. Even though he “can’t relate to 99% of humanity”, Seymour’s a kindly sort and collector of rare blues and jazz records. Enid discovers a kindred spirit and a growing attachment results. She tries to make up for her bad behavior toward him by finding him a girlfriend. All the while, Enid flounders in art class, in her friendship with Rebecca, and at her attempt to land a job. Finally the only thing she has left is her relationship with Seymour and even that becomes strained after her efforts on his behalf prove a success.

Despite the age difference, the friendship between Enid and Seymour is touching and never seamy. It reveals Enid’s hidden tenderness and insecurity while Buscemi’s character is vulnerable and sympathetic. Their performances are flawless.

Illeana Douglas does a very funny turn as Enid’s politically correct art teacher and Brad Renfro plays the girls’ friend Josh.

Lotta says: Ghost World is a magical departure from the usual insipid teen movie.

Reviewed 1/16/02 – a 2001 release