“Ghost World” should primarily be honored for nothing more than simply being different. With continuous loads of mainstream trash filling our theaters and the reviews on these very pages, “Ghost World,” tells the story of two teens who rebel against the norm. The film is also counter culture in its avoidance of clichs (story-wise and visually) and avoiding an all too mainstream ending where theatergoers contentedly leave the theater knowing all is right with the world. The Hollywood happy ending is not real life, and “Ghost World” knows this.
Terry Zwigoff, known for his award-winning documentary “Crumb” about the odd artist of the titular name, is the man at the helm of “Ghost World.” Zwigoff collaborated with Daniel Clowes, who co-wrote this script based on his comic book of the same name. The two men are self-proclaimed nerds who have together fashioned main character Enid (Thora Birch, “American Beauty”) as the poster girl of nerds everywhere. Enid”s partner in counter-culture crime is Rebecca (Scarlett Johansson, “The Horse Whisperer”).
We join these two during their high school graduation and then proceed to witness the life-altering events of the following summer. They are life-long friends and dream of sharing an apartment now that school is out. However, Enid has to complete a remedial art class before being rid of school. Rebecca takes a job at the local Starbucks-like coffee shop to raise money and this corporate job is the first sign that Rebecca is possibly straying away from the world of “freaks, losers and creeps.”
A rift also grows in their relationship due to Seymour (Steve Buscemi). He is first seen when the two girls prank answer his classified ad and arrange a fake-date at a retro “50s diner that blasts more Dr. Dre than Buddy Holly. Enid immediately feels a curiosity for the helpless, dork and follows him home. Her curiosity turns into something more after purchasing an old blues record of his, “Devil Got My Woman,” and listening to it over and over. He turns into a hero for her and then her mission is to find a woman for him because she can not stand to live in a world where a guy like him can”t get a date.
There are many great performances in “Ghost World,” but Buscemi”s is easily the best. No one is able to play pathetic and funny at the same time as well as the indie-movie king. Buscemi also beams of sweetness and clueless sincerity as he tries to develop a life outside of all the antiques he keeps locked up.
Birch and Johansson make a great team, both exuding great boredom and excitement at the little oddities of life and the people around them. Their friendship is a sisterhood that neither wants to let go of, but both feel they may have to. In supporting roles are Illeana Douglas as Enid”s eccentric art teacher and another source of hope, Bob Balaban as Enid”s dry and uncomfortable father and Brad Renfro as the girls” source of teasing and affection. They all produce wonderful low-key performances that shape this puzzling, difficult world.
“Ghost World” is filled with wonderful music, costumes, performances and funny remarks about societal interactions at movie theaters, bars, cafes and coffee houses. But while the script remains smart and unpredictable, Zwigoff”s visual style does grow dull as his static frames and lack of movement slow down the film”s pace. Audiences will probably also ask for more scenes between the wonderful Enid and Rebecca, as the their relationship which is the comic book”s focus is pushed into the background of the Seymour storyline. So while “Ghost World” does not achieve masterpiece status, it is still a welcome diversion and alternative to the formulaic, unrealistic popcorn flicks that dumb down the viewers they try to entertain. Hats off to “Ghost World” for shunning the norm and reveling in this fact.