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Ghost World

movie reviewmovie reviewmovie review out of 4 Movie Review: Ghost World

Starring: Thora Birch, Scarlett Johansson
Director: Terry Zwigoff
Rated: R
RunTime: 94 Minutes
Release Date: August 2001
Genre: Drama

*Also starring: Steve Buscemi, David Cross, Illeana Douglas, Teri Garr, Bob Balaban, Ezra Buzzington, Bruce Glover, Brad Renfro

Review by Harvey Karten
No Rating Supplied

We all know people like the lead characters in Terry Zwigoff's "Ghost World," based on an underground comic strip by co- scripter Daniel Clowes. They are people who are so judgmental that they look down on the rest of the world, considering all others to be dorks. Generally these types are pretty dorky themselves, and they tend also to be unhappy folks whether extroverted or otherwise, covering up their feelings of inadequacy by their cynical demeanor. "Ghost World" describes a relationship between two such people, the outgoing, fun-loving Enid (Thora Birch) and her more withdrawn and also more attractive best pal Rebecca (Scarlett Johansson--who at the age of 15 is playing someone three years her senior). Enid and Rebecca are at a crossroads in their lives having just graduated from high school. Will their friendship slip away as, regrettably, so many harmonious connections do at this point? Since neither young woman is going to college and the two even plan to share an apartment, the odds are that their close affiliation will be unaffected. And yet...

"Ghost World" is about the "and yet," about how events conspire to change their fellowship and lead Enid into quirky new affiliations that help her to find out who she is. Zwigoff opens the story at a graduation from a high school in a small-to-medium sized town. Enid discovers that she must attend summer school to make up an art class that she did not pass, a circumstance that sees her predictably rolling her eyes and turning down her brightly-painted lips in at least mock disgust. To brighten what looks like an otherwise dull season, Enid coaxes Rebecca into another bout in her favorite game: humiliating people she considers beneath her, and sets her sights on an ad she finds in the personals. Pretending to be the woman that the ad placer had once almost met and now seeks, she induces the middle- aged man to meet his alleged date in a restaurant, only to watch him suffer as his intended does not show.

The story, written by comic strip writer Daniel Clowes and the director, puts us into the world of these two 18-year-olds, allowing us to eavesdrop on a series of events, some humorous, others poignant, still others a combination of the two. While Enid takes her art class with a New-Age instructor, Roberta (Illeana Douglas), who encourages the kids to express themselves, she winds up in a relationship with the "loser" whom she humiliated days earlier, Seymour (Steve Buscemi), who turns out to be a quiet collector of 78 rpm records and knows a lot about jazz from the '20's on. She acts as his dating service, fixing him up with an attractive and willing woman, even forcing Seymour to realize that she likes the bespectacled 18-year-old more than the woman he had once speculated was made for him.

The film is brimming with shtick, a particularly incisive one occurring in a movie theater with Enid working the concession stand, losing her job within hours because she is brutally honest with the customers.

The title of the movie comes from graffiti that Daniel Clowes once saw on the wall in a bad Chicago neighborhood--which got the scripter to think that the America of today is undergoing a steady change for the worse, as malls and fast-food chains take away a sense of neighborhood; and to the characters themselves who are about to lose their friendships.

There are marvelous performances in this toned-down film, different from the usual summer teen fare, with Bob Balaban playing the laissez-faire single dad whose rekindled alliance with his ex-wife Maxine (Teri Garr) puts additional pressure on Enid's current living arrangements and by Illeana Douglas as the kind of art teacher we wish we had in high school. Lenser Affonso Beato wisely keeps his camera pretty steady throughout avoiding the quick editing and panoramic views that cause audiences to reach for the dramamine. The end, slightly surreal, is a magical moment, giving the viewers some insight into a major decision which Enid is forced to make.

Copyright 2001 Harvey Karten

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