Written by Daniel Clowes
Starring Thora Birch, Scarlett Johansson, Steve Buscemi, Illeana Douglas,
by Terry Zwigoff
Who's the dork?
The kids who think school sucks and life sucks or the guy with an obsession
about Blind Lemon Shandy and other blues recording artists on 78 rpm
The answer in Ghost
World is that well, everything pretty much sucks and in small suburb,
big town America there is very little to be happy about. Most 'teen'
movies celebrate stupidity or obsessions with being cool or sex or appearance.
These are the main priorities of teens world over. For teens who are
not cool, or sexually active or even good looking, real life and the
future it promises look truly appalling. Seeing the uncool chick transformed
into a swan in 'Ten things I hate about you' only reinforce the inadequacies.
From the Scream series, to 'American Pie 2' everything comes down to
how you look, how you fit in, become part of the team. You are a loser
unless you become 'one of them' and in fact teen movies are beginning
to look like episodes of 'The Invaders' (for the uninitiated it concerned
a fugitive architect who knew everyone was slowly being replaced by
aliens but no one could tell but him).
The better kind
of teen movie that makes something of an impression has a stronger,
more ironic message. Some are pretty good films too. 'Final Destination'
is one such where kids last minute get off a flight that is doomed to
crash and then after it crashes death comes for them one after the other.
Other teen movies such as 'Go' capture the downside of young adult life
in the USA. For many it is utterly crap, where high school graduates
who chose not to do a degree, get trapped in service jobs that have
no future, have no soul and they can see that everything they do or
will do sucks. Go deals with drugs, clubs, accidental death and consequences,
it has a great soundtrack and works effectively in it's genre. Of course
there are the sexy violent ones too, 'Wild Things' a wonderful example
and a treat to watch.
makes Ghost World work so well is that no one is trying to
be cool. The protagonists, Rebecca and Enid, long ago decided that
it was no contest. School was just a long suckfest, so it remains
a survival tool to mock those who succeed, look good, do well, or
suck even more than you do.
Thora Birch and Scarlett Johansson are wonderful as a bitchy pair
who just know that they have survived the first big ordeal of their
lives, school, and now have to square up to a life that may be worse.
Their safety is their sense of irony and skilled sarcasm, equally
it is their Achilles heel.
by Scarlett Johansson has her head more screwed on and faces up to the
fact that they have to get jobs if they are going to be able to pay
for the apartment they want to share. Enid, played by Thora Birch is
reluctant to join the world she has mocked for so long. She has problems
relating to her father and his choice of girlfriend, she has problems
Steven Buscemi enters the film, first as someone to be mocked for his
obsession with 78s (records before vinyl) and somehow he becomes Enid's
new friend, finally boyfriend. It's unlikely and might even be uncomfortable
for some, but Enid cannot relate to her own generation of boys, has
a genuine interest in trying to make Seymour (Steven Buscemi) happy,
but realises that by pushing him into a relationship with someone who
does not truly share his interests she is betraying him and her own
interests. Rebecca, of course,thinks Seymour a total loser, but to Enid,
Seymour has a genuine passion for something, he is one of the few real
people she has ever met. Yet Seymour is her, twenty years on, trapped
by his weird collections and weird friends and secretly longs to be
normal. Enid may not sense this, but he, by being the outsider all his
life, will be her unless she can adapt or embrace the shallowness of
Enid is quite talented with her art, sketching pithy portraits of the
people around her demonstrates that. But in her summer remedial art
classes with the pretentious teacher played with wonderful superficiality
by Illeana Douglas (Grace of my heart) she learns a vital lesson in
compromising. Taking a 'found' image from Seymour's apartment and cleverly
turning it against the teacher. But here too, the result is bittersweet.
The unfortunate and 'racist' advertisement for Chicken fast-food causes
upset and although Enid was offered a scholarship to college because
of it, she loses the place and what is worse is failed in her art class.
Enid's cynicism about the world is self-fulfilling in other words.
Ghost World is a
complex film, dry and amusing rather than funny. It is tragic, observant
and at the beginning deliciously bitchy, but it cannot remain so, because
this is a film about life-long friends beginning to realise they are
finally diverging. Enid in her wish to have a better more meaningful
life betrays herself. Seymour in his foolishness in getting involved
with her loses mostly everything. Only Rebecca has seen the light and
closed the door on the past.
is remarkable for another reason, it is in part a British movie.
Granada put up the cash and it is their first film made entirely
in the USA with a US cast. It has mainly favorable reviews and
it has already garnered a cult following. For those sated by Harry
Potter, Ghost World is a useful and illuminating antidote.
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