..

GHOST WORLD

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Thora Birch, Scarlett Johansson, Steve Buscemi, Brad Renfro, Illeana Douglas
Director:  Terry Zwigoff
Audio:  Dolby Digital 5.1
Video:  Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1
Studio:  MGM
Features:  See Review
Length:  111 Minutes
Release Date:  February 5, 2002

“I think only losers have good relationships.”

“That’s the spirit.”

Film ****

When a teenage comedy comes along that gets its laughs intelligently, with no punches pulled yet no cheap shots, it’s such a breath of fresh air that it makes me feel like I haven’t breathed in forever.  Ever since Rushmore, I’ve been waiting patiently for the next movie that would pick up its torch and run with it.  It took a few years, but I got my reward for waiting…one of 2001’s best movies, Ghost World.

Like Rushmore, Ghost World has such faith in its characters that anything is possible.  Thora Birch, who plays Enid, delivers one of the year’s most complete and striking performances, proving her good turn in American Beauty was no fluke.

Enid and her best friend Becky (Johansson) are freshly out of high school…what happens next?  Neither wants college, so that would seem to suggest getting jobs and moving out.  It’s an interesting step, because both girls have viewed the so-called “real” world with more than a share of cynicism over the years.  Enid in particular seems less than happy about the prospect of joining it for real.

She’s the kind of person who knows what she doesn’t like very clearly, but what she does like, she hasn’t discovered yet.  She lives her whole life as a rebellion against who-knows-what…perhaps normalcy would be the best word.  You can almost feel her bristle every time her friend uses the word “normal”.

Faced with a summer school art class to complete her graduation, Enid focuses less on her talent (which she does have) and more on her own amusement…she and Becky decide to answer a guy’s very open personal ad just to have a little fun.  The ad’s placer, Seymour (Buscemi, in one of his most subdued and best performances) is everything they imagined…an odd loner.

But as Enid gets to know him, she starts to feel a kinship with him.  Here’s a guy who followed his own drummer for some 40 years, and is a complete individual.  He’s lonely and unhappy, and so is she…the only difference is he realizes it, and she doesn’t.  They strike up an odd friendship over his vintage record collection and old-time paraphernalia.  She decides that maybe she can find a girl for him.

I don’t want to go too far into story details, because the film takes whimsical and delightful turns along the way.  The script is rich in irony, wit, and acute observations about the naked human condition.  I love how Enid, for example, plainly tells her father at one point, “I’m not even listening to you, and you don’t even notice.”  His next statement proves the point.

In the end, of course, there are no resolutions.  Enid and Becky are at a new chapter in their lives, and it is one that doesn’t usually end quickly or with finality.  They start the long painful process of growing apart over the course of the film…something that happens to a lot of childhood friends over time.  What will become of them?  The movie doesn’t pretend to know all the answers. 

But in the meantime, their observations are right on the money, and dead-on funny.  My favorite?  Their review of the music played at their graduation.  “It’s so bad, it’s almost good,” Becky says.  “It’s so bad, it goes past good and back to bad again,” Enid chimes.  Other moments are quiet and priceless.  Watch Enid’s face as she plays an old blues classic she’s just discovered over and over again…it speaks volumes.

This is an amazing cast, from the rightly recognized Steve Buscemi to the no-nonsense approach of Scarlett Johansson.  But the movie belongs to Thora Birch first and foremost…she made Enid lovable, despite all her willful shortcomings.

The movie is actually based on a comic book, which I’ve never read, and the screenplay was co-penned by the director Terry Zwigoff and the comic creator Daniel Clowes.  It’s one of the year’s most insightful offerings, and if there’s any justice, their work will be rewarded with an Oscar nomination.

The bottom line is, we’ve all had our Enid phase at one point, even if it wasn’t as strong as hers.  The subtle need to reject everything you think has rejected you?  I saw a lot of my old self in her…ironically, I saw a lot of my adult self in Seymour, but that’s another matter.  Enid could be this generation’s Holden Caulfield. 

Video ****

This is a terrific anamorphic transfer from start to finish…no complaints.  Despite being a more indie-styled film, the coloring is beautiful from start to finish, with more than a few scenes demonstrating a strong palate of tones perfectly rendered, with no bleeding or distortions.  Images are sharply produced all the way, with no softness and no grain, and with no loss of detail from lighter to darker scenes.  A superb effort!

Audio ***

The 5.1 mix is a fairly good one, though by the nature of the film, not overly conducive to surround.  Much of the movie is dialogue oriented, and the words come across cleanly and clearly.  A few musical moments are all the action the subwoofer gets, and only a scene or two seem to really activate the rear stage in a discreet way.  Dynamic range is very good.  All in all, a pleasant listening experience.

Features **1/2

Just my luck these days that the films I’d most want to hear commentary on doesn’t have any…oh, well.  The disc does include a short featurette with some cast and crew interviews and a couple of brief glimpses at the original comic book, four deleted/alternate scenes, a music video for the strange number that opens the movie (from 1965), and the original trailer.

Summary:

Ghost World is just the cure for you if you’re sick of brainless teen comedies that run on hormones instead of real ideas and characters.  A superb cast and excellent script make this one of the year’s best films, and if you missed it the first time around, you owe it to yourself to catch it on this quality DVD offering from MGM.