Though Ghost World is as dark, weird, and awkward as its two main characters, it's also just as honest and real. It's a well-made movie that, like Crumb, doesn't whitewash or sanitize the reality of life as a teen. Being 18 and different from everybody else is confusing; thankfully, Zwigoff and Clowes don't attempt to offer tidy answers. --Adem Tepedelen
Unlike the Amazon synopsis and Leonard Maltin's opinion, this movie is not about alienation. It is about a cynical high school graduate's attempt to find a niche to fit into when her world undergoes changes she cannot understand. Thora Birch ("American Beauty") is very good as the high school graduate with a dark view of everything in the world...until she meets milquetoast record collector Steve Buscemi. There is a good deal of cliche in this meeting but it serves to break the holocaust of darkness in her life, which is compounded by her best friend changing roles, her schlemiel father being an empty, vacuous figure in her life, and her indecision about what to do with her own life.
Birch focuses on loser Buscemi, trying to improve his lot in life. She successfully helps set him up with another woman, then injects herself in his life in a way to locate her own life when everyone she knows seemingly abandons her. When this fails, she follows the pattern of the only other stable role model in her life, a mentally ill middle age man who sits at a bus stop, waiting for a bus that never arrives. When his bus one day arrives, she decides to take it, too, as the movie ends.
This is Birch's final removal from the world, the alienation most critics disucssed. I prefer to think of it as role acceptance, as finding her niche, as getting to a place she wants. This very simple film portrays a reality for many high school kids that come from single parent homes and lack direction after school. It tells a real story in an uncomfortable circumstance. People that enjoy nice neat stories in films will be very distrubed watching this. People whose minds look for meaning in film portrayals will become more involved the longer the movie goes on.
The film, directed by Terry Zwigoff, who also directed the acclaimed biopic about underground artist Robert Crumb aptly entitled Crumb (1994) and Bad Santa (2004), stars Thora Birch as Enid, Scarlett Johansson as Rebecca, and Steve Buscemi as Seymour. The story begins with Enid and Rebecca, who are best friends, graduating from high school. During their slightly reflective moments of high school, we begin to learn that these two girls are among the fringe dwellers. You may be familiar with them, as they were the kids who dressed oddly, oozed sarcasm, shunned almost all after school activities, and seemed to have a negative view of most everything, seeing what they perceived as the phoniness and superficialities rampantly inherent within their environment, and taking pleasure in tormenting and alienating those around them and purposely ostracizing themselves from their peers. They often emit an aura of superiority, believing they are above the banalities, relishing their positions as outsiders smart enough to see through the perceived lameness, but their non-conformist attitudes often rendered them to most as snide, obnoxious losers with extremely limited social circles whose actions seemed to mask a deeper, desperately needing to belong but due to physical differences, lack of athletic abilities and just general awkwardness of youth put them in a not so unique position of never really fitting in with their peers.
Anyway, as the post graduation phase sets in, Enid and Rebecca's paths begin to separate as they had originally intended to get an apartment together, which requires money ergo jobs, but Enid must take a summer school art class to complete her requirements for her high school diploma. Rebecca, seemingly beginning to grow out of the non-conformist phase takes a job at a coffee shop understanding that her goals rely on the very real fact that things cost money, while Enid's less than heartfelt attempts at work fail miserably (her stint working in a movie theater is truly funny...Movie Patron: Do you serve beer or any alcohol? Enid: I wish. Actually you wish... after about five minutes of this movie, you're gonna wish you had ten beers.) Through a particularly obnoxious and uncomfortable prank pulled on a completely unsuspecting and random individual, they meet Seymour, someone most would consider an unassuming loser in that he lives a very isolated life, has no misconceptions about his identity or attractiveness in general, and obsesses over rare records, devoting an entire room in his modest apartment to this pursuit. Enid later develops a relationship mostly due to the fact, in her words, 'I kind of like him. He's the exact opposite of everything I really hate. In a way, he's such a clueless dork, he's almost kind of cool.' Enid begins to identify with Seymour, someone who has excepted his loser status and has even managed to squeeze an existence out of it, while Rebecca seems to be conforming more and more to achieve a goal once shared by both girls, straining their relationship, and effectively isolating Enid even more, especially once Seymour begins to develop a relationship with a woman that Enid helped him meet, not thinking it would ever go very far...
The story sort of rambles along, but seemingly with a purpose. Certain elements appear completely odd and disconnected from any plot, but if you've ever read Eightball, you may have more of an understanding of this, as is how the comic book (graphic novel) is set up, which is one of the elements that made it so popular, at least within the individuals that followed the comic. Offbeat, irrelevant, irregular, spooky, ethereal, sarcastic, witty, genuine, scary, sad, humorous, these are all words I would use to describe both the comic book and the film. I was surprised to see this movie made, much more so a major studio release, as the comic didn't seem to lend itself to this kind of treatment, especially given that the main character is not one your normal viewer would like or develop much empathy for...The characters are very well developed, warts and all, and Birch is wonderful as the snotty, snooty outsider who finds life certainly isn't the same as when she was in high school, suffering, in part, to her unwillingness to grow from her childish attitudes and develop a path to follow. Buscemi seems made for his part as Seymour 'I can't relate to 99% of humanity', given his unique physical appearance and understanding created within the context of his character of his lot in life, embracing that which is comfortable, while the rest being more of a means to an end supporting his passion. He knows what he is, but seems to harbor no ill will or outward hatred towards society in general, accepting his role in life, taking what comes his way and just going with the flow.
The wide screen picture looks really sharp with matching audio. Special features include deleted scenes, a ten minute featurette entitled Making of Ghost World which, in its' brevity and use of various scenes from the film hardly shares much of anything, a music video for the sixties Indian music sequence presented at the beginning of the film (which we see as Enid is watching it on her television), and an original theatrical trailer for the film, along with a TV spot, and a couple of other trailers for more popular films. If you enjoyed this film, I would also recommend Crumb (1994), American Splendor (2003) and the upcoming Clowes/Zwigoff production of Art School Confidential (2004). By the way, watch the film all the way through the credits as a nice little surprise awaits you.