Some people are okay, but mostly I just feel like poisoning everybody.
Ghost World is one of the oddest little movies I’ve seen in a while. Loosely inspired by Daniel Clowes’ ground-breaking graphic novel, it’s the story of a couple of high school grads who find themselves adrift in a world they don’t particularly feel a part of. It’s particularly the story of Enid, played to perfection by Thora Birch (man, she was on fire for a couple of years there, wasn’t she? Feel like I haven’t seen her in ages), a lonely outcast, who forms a strange friendship with Seymour, an eccentric record collector, played by an absolutely brilliant Steve Buscemi. It’s a strange movie in content, sure, but also in tone. There’s a kind of deadpan despair to everything that happens here where Zwigoff is, I think, giving you opportunities for some dark chuckles but refusing to tell you that those snickers are okay. There’s a ton of dark humor, mostly delivered at a very low energy level. This movie is a lot of things, but here’s one: it’s a comedy that totally doesn’t care whether you think it’s funny. But it certainly is; there are some sequences that are nothing short of brilliant; Enid’s brief stint at a local movie theater is one of my favorites, but it was her erstwhile attempt at a yard sale that made me literally pause the movie and laugh until I was holding my stomach in agony. But the film also functions as a deeply effecting drama; the characters here aren’t just well-written, they’re genuinely brilliant, made all the more so by the fact that the film has the balls to use a confused jerk of a teenage girl as its perspective character and treat her with absolute seriousness and care. For a movie to even posit that Enid’s struggles and problems are worth our attention feels unbelievably bold, even fifteen years after this movie’s release. But they are, because the film tackles the difficult task of making characters (both Enid & Seymour) who can’t connect with others connect with the audience and it absolutely nails it. The movie has a cataclysm of great performances. Scarlett Johansson, a mere seventeen, gives a really wonderful performance as Becky, Enid’s high-school friend who discovers she wants to embrace the grown-up world and finds herself drifting away from Enid; Johansson gives a really great performance in her body language, showing us Becky’s transition from child to woman merely in the way she carries herself through the world. Illeana Douglas has a great supporting part as the flaky teacher at Enid’s remedial art class. Brad Renfro is a hoot as a hapless friend. Brian George doesn’t even get a name; he’s just the “convenience store owner,” but anytime he’s in the vicinity of a scene, the laugh count just doubles. Teri Garr has a very small, but incredibly funny, part as a woman Enid’s father is interested in dating. At the end of the day, you could make the case that the movie is about many things, but to even talk about them is to reduce the movie in some critical ways. I think, as I wrap this up, that I’ve come to the realization that there are three ways one could focus thought about this movie. I could talk about the funny bits and how entertaining the movie is and quote my favorite lines and my favorite scenes. Or I could delve into the characters and talk about their emotional journeys and resonances. Or I could talk about the artistic and philosophical ideas that kind of underpin the film. I haven’t even really started on any of those things, but that’s the richness of this strange film. I’ll admit that the ending left me feeling somewhat unsatisfied, but I know that I couldn’t stop thinking about this movie for days after I watched it; and anyway, maybe unsatisfied is exactly how I’m supposed to feel. Well, let the details be what they are. This is a movie you really do need to see, not least because no one will ever be able to tell you about it in any but the most fumbling of ways. Anticipate repeated viewings. Maybe it’s not a masterpiece, maybe not even a “small” masterpiece; but then I don’t think it would tell you if it was. And I can’t shake the feeling that its masterpiece status might just be the least of the things this movie’s got hidden. 4 stars.
tl;dr – strange dark comedy/drama is beautifully written, brilliantly performed and utterly unique; thoughtful, insightful, deadpan, hilarious, grim; indescribably rich. 4 stars.