Ghost World Review
Enid (Thora Birch), together with her best friend Rebecca (Scarlett Johansson), has just graduated high school with a witty yet loathsome approach to the shallow, fake society that is becoming their environment. They don't know who they are identity-wise, and they do not know what they want to be, but they certainly know what they don't want to be. Because Enid achieved an 'F' grade in Art class, she has to attend summer school. Rebecca graduated, and so has devoted herself to working in a coffee shop in order to raise the necessary funds for her and Enid to buy their own place. The pair spend their free time attempting to exist in their own world shut off from most of society. Frequently, the duo attach themselves to characters interesting to them in order to annoy/exploit them for their own pleasure. This defines the two girls' relationship with Josh (Brad Renfro), who they persistently bother for humour and for lifts in his car. Brief excitement is given to the two girls' lives when they notice a rather pathetic personal ad from a man inquiring about a blonde he was interested in. Possessing a cruel twist of humour, the girls decide to phone the man up pretending to be the blonde and arrange a meeting. Enid and Rebecca, dragging along Josh, spy at the man at the fake fifties diner - the location of the personal ad rendezvous. After watching the man (Steve Buscemi) squirm at being stood up for about half an hour, the man leaves and is obviously very angry. Rebecca thinks nothing of it, but Enid is slowly drawn through pity towards the man. After visiting a yard sale, Enid encounters the man, and finds him to be a vinyl record collector named Seymour. Through his unhealthy obsession with seventy-eights and his sweet pathetic inner being, Enid starts to actively hang around Seymour in an effort to resist the lure of normal society that seems to have already tempted Rebecca.
Based on the popular, quirky comic book by Daniel Clowes, Ghost World is a seemingly wacky comedy about two teenage girls aimed at the teen market. However, the film is so bleak despite the overt primary colour tones and so sour in places it will certainly not appeal to most teens looking for another 10 Things I Hate About You. Essentially, the title refers to a town (that could literally be any town) in which the distinctive character traits that distinguish that community from any other are rapidly being swallowed up by the consumer culture. Faceless brands such McDonalds, Starbucks litter the town, and even fake fifties diners have waiters with seventies' perms and hip-hop music playing on the jukebox. In a sense, the town is becoming a ghost. In defiance of this absorption into a postmodernist culture, Enid is constantly trying out different personas of the past. One day she is a 1977 punk with green hair, other days she looks like one of Audrey Hepburn's chic friends of the early sixties. Even her warming to the bluegrass music recommended by Seymour suggests that is Enid refusing to acknowledge the music of her contemporary peers.
Ghost World is very reminiscent of a film like Rushmore, which leaves a permanent smile on your face despite having few laugh out loud moments. The smile is more related to the appealing characters as opposed to humourous situations. Ghost World is a world in which the normal and conventional members of society are having an invisible war with the quirky and eccentric. Even though the norms appear to be winning this war, the film makes no qualms about championing the odd individuals, claiming it is these members who contribute more beneficially to society. For a film with such a colourful comic book style, it is refreshing that the ending tastes awful and is outwardly pessimistic, and doesn't pander to the usual greased-lightning speed denouement.
The reason Ghost World works so deliciously is mainly due to the excellent performances. Here is a film in which the characters are so offbeat, and yet manage to render the world in which they live so believable. Each character has what would usually be perceived as a weird trait, such as the well-dressed old man who spends days waiting at the bus stop for a bus that seemingly will never arrive. Or what about Enid's inarticulate Dad (Bob Balaban) who has lost the connection with his daughter to such an extent that he has trouble making sentences even sound coherent to her. Particularly funny is Enid's over-zealous art teacher Roberta (Illeana Douglas) who has no qualms about branding any of her students' work a masterpiece except when it comes to Enid, who is obviously more talented than the rest of them. As Enid, Thora Birch provides an excellent alienated performance, and is surely set to be the new teen remodel of the angst ridden youth after also playing Jane in American Beauty. As Rebecca, Scarlett Johansson is very good at playing a subdued character, with an almost overwhelming preoccupation to grow up and become a fully-fledged adult. Of course, any film with Steve Buscemi is going to be interesting, and Buscemi delivers his usual lovably geeky performance as Seymour, a pathetic loner who still manages to garner sympathy from the audience.
The directing by Terry Zwigoff (of Crumb fame) is controlled in terms of pacing and never strays towards self-indulgent. It would have been far easier to throw in cheap laughs for the sake of commercial value, but Zwigoff sticks to his guns and gives the audience a far rougher ride than they anticipated.
Ghost World lost most of its potential audience the minute it chose to omit the laugh-a-minute comedy that audiences might have been expecting, but what results is a film far richer in terms of social message and delightfully structured characters.
Transfer and picture wise, the film is very good, with nice primary colour tones and sharp detail, combined with very low amounts of dirt and grain. Framed at anamorphic 1.78:1 aspect ratio.
Presented in the now-conventional 5.1 sound mix setting, Ghost World isn't too heavily reliant on vast sound effects, despite a good surround mix that uses channel separation on any effect it can.
Menu: A nicely designed menu in the form of a comic strip, although there is only brief animation, and this is a small window featuring a clip from the film.
Packaging: The usual MGM amaray release, with bland and minimalist white front cover artwork and the main characters featured, and the reverse being similarly bland. The DVD also contains a one page insert for chapter listings.
Deleted/Alternate Scenes: Presented in non-anamorphic 1.78:1, four sequences are included, and although they are nice extras it is fairly obvious as to why they were left out of the film, since they don't actually contribute much to the plot. Even so, the sequences are named: I'll Kill You, Get Out Of My Parking Lot, Wasteland and Seymour Selling Records. Better than all of these deleted sequences is a sequence featured after the film's end credits, in which an alternate scene between Seymour getting beat up in the convenience store is featured, and in this version Seymour wins the fight and starts spouting some Mr. Pink-esque dialogue!
Making Of Ghost World - Featurette: The usual marketing trash that is banded about when films hit the cinema. It lasts for ten minutes and features brief interviews with the cast and crew intercut with scenes from the film. At such a short length, the 'making of' hardly touches the surface, which is annoying considering the lack of commentary.
Jaan Pehechaan Ho - Music Video: The vibrant Indian musical number from the sixties film Gumnaam, which is the sequence Enid dances to at the beginning of the film, presented here in its entirety (and non-anamorphic 1.78:1 widescreen), and directed by Raja Nawathe.
Trailers: The original trailer is provided, which manages to convey the film's offbeat quirkiness. Also provided is a TV Spot advertising the soundtrack for the film, as well as trailers for the DVD versions of The Terminator and The Princess Bride.
For the weirdoes and eccentrics of the world, not to mention the genuine fans of courageous filmmaking, Ghost World has already grown into a tremendous favourite amongst those sick of tired cinematic teen exercises such as Legally Blonde and Dude, Where's My Car. The picture and sound quality are very good and complement the film highly, although the extras are extremely lacking for a film released in 2001. Perhaps a Special Edition looms on the horizon that may be worth waiting for. Even so, the film itself is worth a look, particularly to anyone who loves the subtle delights of films such as Rushmore.