Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Ghost World (2001)

Teen films used to haunt this movie-goer. Thank goodness for Ghost World.

Hey, I was in high school in the 1980s when there was plenty of dreck about high school students playing at the cinema. Releases like Private School, Spring Break and Getting It On were short on brains, but boasted plenty of nudity. Ho-hum. Director John Hughes was a rare bright light with a string of efforts, such as Ferris Bueller's Day Off, that portrayed teenagers as real, living beings with brains.


Efforts like Gregory's Girl, the brilliant Rushmore and, yes, Ghost World, offer a much different take on teens. The scripts are entertaining, the acting is solid and the soundtracks quirky. An extra on Ghost World's DVD is a slice of Indian rock and roll taken from a 1965 film. Very cool.

Ghost World is based on a graphic novel of the same name by Daniel Clowes. He helped write the script with director Terry Zwigoff.

Enid (Thora Birch) and Rebecca (Scarlett Johansson) are life-long friends who've just graduated from high school. Their sharp, caustic barbs target just about every single one of their classmates. Both are definitely outside of their peer group. Approach this pair at your own risk.


Enid is an artist who enjoys drawing strangers and following them around. She dresses in funky fashions. We don't get to learn as much about Rebecca, except she has a little more focus on what she wants to do post-graduation.

The pair lure Seymour (Steve Buscemi), a loner who collects old blues records and wonders when, or if, he'll ever meet the right woman.

The more Enid learns about Seymour, the more she likes him despite a healthy age difference between the two.

But the promise of their relationship is threatened by another woman. Enid faces challenges in her summer school art class and her father's decision to again dating a woman she absolutely loathes. Everything is changing in her life. Enid is not quite sure what to do.

Ghost World works because of great performances, a string of eccentric characters in brief appearances and some fine work by Birch in the lead role.

Two of my favourite scenes: a man asks a Masterpiece Video employee for help finding one of the greatest international films ever made. The clerk has no clue what the customer wants to see. Wait for the film he finds for him instead.

The film's opening graduation scene is also a hoot with a valedictory speech followed by a very bizarre musical number.


It's too bad Bob Balaban, who appears as Enid's father, is given so little to work with. He's a treat to watch in several films from Christopher Guest and company including A Mighty Wind and For Your Consideration. Illeana Douglas is great as a spacey art teacher.

Watch for the late Brad Renfro in a supporting role as Josh, a tormented convenience store worker and rare friend of Enid and Rebecca.

Rating: 9/10

FUN FACTS: Ghost World was director Terry Zwigoff's first feature film. He previously directed two documentaries, Louie Bluie (1985) and Crumb (1994). Ghost World earned two Golden Globe nominations for best actress (Birch) and supporting actor (Buscemi) and an Academy Award nod for best adapted screenplay. Was Seymour partly based on Zwigoff? The director, like Seymour collects old 78s. Louie Bluie was inspired by his finding a rare blues recording by Howard Armstrong. Birch appeared in American Beauty. Johansson appeared in Home Alone III. Douglas earned credits in several films by Martin Scorsese including Cape Fear and Goodfellas.

Ghost World, 2001, 111 minutes. Cast: Thora Birch, Scarlett Johansson, Brad Renfro, Illeana Douglas, Steve Buscemi.


Anonymous said...

Hi Reel Popcorn Junkie: I agree with you about teen movies from the 80s. I will have to check out Ghost World based on your recommendation. Thanks!

Reel Popcorn Junkie said...

Let me know what you think about Ghost World. Gregory's World from Scottish director Bill Forsyth is worth watching too. It's definitely a step or two above many of the other youth-related films released by Hollywood.