Ghost World

2001, Movie, R, 111 mins


Big-screen comic book adaptations are usually overbudgeted action spectacles on the order of X-MEN, but this mordantly funny, emotionally piquant depiction of post-adolescent angst also has its roots in the graphic novel format. Originally published as a series of eight illustrated stories, Daniel Clowes's acclaimed Ghost World chronicled the misadventures of high-school grads Enid and Rebecca, lifelong friends and dedicated nonconformists who, once the glue of school life has dissolved, find themselves drifting apart. While remaining faithful to the funny, melancholy tone of the stories, Clowes (who co-wrote the script) and writer-director Terry Zwigoff shifted the film's primary focus onto Enid (marvelously played by Thora Birch) and her attempts to deal with looming adulthood while searching for a scrap of authenticity in a fake, plastic world. Enid's strategy is to keep life at arm's length with a curled lip, sardonic tongue and buffer zone of kitsch that embraces everything from thrift-shop clothes to Bollywood pop and Don Knotts. For Enid, life is best seen with quotes around it; its absurdities are "good" when they're beyond bad, and things only "rule" when they're truly awful. Enid and Rebecca (Scarlett Johansson) leave high school sure of only two things: They're not going to college, and they're going to fulfill their dream of finding an apartment together. Rebecca takes a job at the local Coffee Experience, but Enid can't seem to kickstart her life. She's forced to retake remedial art in summer school to get her diploma, and she's fired from her brief stint at the local movie theater for warning patrons that the movie sucks. Fine. Enid would rather hang out with her new friend Seymour (a superb Steve Buscemi), a dyed-in-the-wool curmudgeon who's first the unwitting victim of one of Enid's cruel jokes and then becomes her hero. Similarly disgusted by the modern world's falseness, Seymour obsessively collects vintage 78 rpm recordings, and comes to represent the antithesis of everything about the present Enid despises and fears. If Seymour bears a strong resemblance to R. Crumb, it's hardly a coincidence; the underground cartoonist was the subject of Zwigoff's remarkable 1995 documentary, CRUMB. But the film's worldview — suburbia as a desperately lonely, freak-filled ghost world with no sense of history, a place that whitewashes the past before recycling it into a tacky theme diners — is entirely Clowes's own, and has made the transition to film with remarkable fidelity. leave a comment --Ken Fox

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