Ghost World


Accentuate The Negative.

Bus Stop
Extremely entertaining story of Enid, a recent high-school graduate (Thora Birch) who doesn't feel as if she belongs, even among the other 'losers'. Her best friend Rebecca becomes more 'normal' after high school, landing a job and looking for an apartment. Seymour, the man that both girls ridicule, then pity, then come to like, ends up with a better social life than Enid. Even the crazy old man at the bus stop knows exactly what he's doing, while Enid really has no idea.

GHOST WORLD is full of laughs about the worst of America (hip-hop trio at graduation, laptop-equipped man getting free coffee, pretentious art student, sex shop clients, white trash customer). Enid sees everything with the detachment of an outsider. She is careful to never admit liking anything that anyone else likes. She's like most disaffected youths, but a bit more perceptive. She notices extra things, like the brand of tennis shoe the 'alt-comic' is wearing on stage. Her friend Rebecca is prettier and gets more attention, but doesn't pursue any of the boys because she feels that it would be like going against her best friend. At a certain point the friend has had enough and feels like its time to 'grow out of' her sarcastic cynical world and into the 'real one'. Enid never wants to leave her Ghost World to go to the real one. That's where she differs from all the other losers. She has no ambition to become normal. She is comfortable commenting on the idiocy of the people she sees around her.

Steve Buscemi has a bit of a tricky role in Seymour. He has a semi-inappropriate relationship with his teenage friend Enid and must keep her at arm's length. He knows what the line is that he isn't to cross, even if she wants to. He has substituted friendship and human connection with collecting 78 records and old time paraphernalia. He knows that his life not as fulfilling as it could be. Because of this, no matter how many times he's put down or has his heart broken he tries again to find love. He doesn't want to be an outsider in a Ghost World looking in at the other people. This puts him at odds with Enid. She doesn't see what the big attraction of the Real World is. She likes Seymour best when he's ridiculing other people, something Enid is comfortable with (and good at) as well. He yells at slow pedestrians, mocks the musical tastes of less informed people, and points out the hypocrisy of something as large as society and as small as a fried chicken restaurant. When he's speaking like this, Enid does indeed seem to be his soul mate. But he longs for love from the Real World, as does his slothful roommate, who's even more pathetic than Seymour is as he doesn't even have a record collection to brag about.

Enid's dad is another inhabitant of a Ghost World. He doesn't listen to his daughter and doesn't much care that she never listens to him. He has no relationship whatsoever with her and doesn't realize what his reconciliation with a former lover will do to her. He has had enough of being a single father and wants to find love of his own, however imperfect that love may be. Enid obviously thinks that the woman (Teri Garr) is bad for both her father and herself, but how can she be upset about her father trying to find some form of happiness.

The performances are all first rate. Birch has to carry the film as she's in just about every scene. It is so refreshing to have an actress on the screen with something approaching a normal body. It's a shame that this even has to be said but Thora Birch is no anorexic waif, she's normal. She has these beautiful blue eyes that seem to have a real intelligence behind them. But this is no slumming actress who just needs to wash her hair to become a princess homecoming queen (Drew Barrymore and Rachel Leigh Cook come to mind). She inhabits the role in a realistic fashion. She is tough and wise and scared and sad and vulnerable. In only one instance does she tip the audience to her desire to really be normal or popular. During a single pivotal scene when she enters a comic book store (against Rebecca's wishes).

In almost every film I can remember, the punk girl or the 'alt-chick' (I'm thinking of roles like the ones Winona or Garofalo or Ricci have had) has been ridiculed by the popular kids, but she never cared. In these other films (WELCOME HOME, ROXY CARMICHAEL; REALITY BITES; THE OPPOSITE OF SEX; etc.) we know that the famous actress is the cool one and those who are ridiculing her are dumb, conventional people who can't see how fabulous our famous actress is. There is often a witty come-back that puts the bully in their place and all is right with the world. In GHOST WORLD Enid enters the comic book store dressed in a studded leather jacket, fishnets, green hair, and Doc Martens. She has gone through the trouble of dyeing her hair that morning (Rebecca is unhappy with this latest attempt at self-ostracization) and thinks her outfit will impress the other losers. But upon entering the store, she is mercilessly heckled by everyone on the staff and some customers as well. The scene is funny in its dialogue, but unique in the fact that our heroine is getting the shit kicked out of her verbally. She has no come-back. She tries to mention that unlike the Offspring and Green Day-loving kids that she herself ridicules, she is clearly dressing as a vintage 70s Sex Pistols/Clash fan, thereby making her outfit acceptable. We can see the sadness in Enid's eyes which isn't helped by Rebecca's apathy at the heckling. Maybe Enid deserved the heckling, in Rebecca's mind. Enid immediately goes home and washes the dye out of her hair.

I just kept thinking about that scene. She really wanted to be cooler than the rest of the kids in the store, but instead was put down. In every other film I can remember, our heroine would chalk it up to being misunderstood by idiots, but in GHOST WORLD this really seemed to affect the character. She may be living in her own Ghost World, but she'd like some positive acknowledgement from the real world. There is a scene in a bar where she surveys the available men, crossing each off her list as they do something stupid (or guy-like). Will she never find someone like her?

Her relationship with Seymour starts out with a hoax and moves into the matchmaking phase. She tries to force him from his Ghost World of record collecting into the real world of dating. Her motivations may not be as magnanimous as they sound. She doesn't believe that a man so pathetic that other losers make fun of him could actually find love in the real world. When one of his relationships begins to actually work, this upsets her system of thinking. She thought she had found a soul mate (one more than twice her age), maybe not for romance, but at least someone who understood her beliefs that the real world is a screwy place. He, however, wants to date and find romance in the real world. This goes against her beliefs and she tries to take him back to his Ghost World, using lies and her power as a woman.

Buscemi's character also can't give the impression that he knows he's better than the regular people he meets. He has no illusions about his own patheticness. His face and body-language are slouched as he wonders where his next indignity will come from. He once was exactly like Enid, but years of being cut down to size have taken their toll on him. He speaks in the monotone of one who never expects his words to make an impact on the listener. But behind his huge sad eyes, a bit of optimism occasionally rears its head. He is excited by his new friend Enid and his new lover Dana. It's his pattern to slowly lift his head out of his Ghost World, until disappointment forces it back down.

As Enid's best friend, Rebecca, Scarlett Johansson has the quieter role. She clearly longs to be accepted by the regular people. She dresses more conventionally, she has a job, she wants to be asked out by the cute, popular guy. She appears to remain friends with Enid for nostalgia's sake. Rebecca thinks Enid is the coolest, but she wants more. She's also in a Ghost World, but against her will. She knows the ridiculing Enid will take at the comic store and tries to stop her from going. Rebecca's tired of being on the outside, looking in. Men speak to her while ignoring Enid. Perhaps Enid's keeping her from being happy. Enid never seems to even have the chance of happiness, but maybe Rebecca could find it without her friend.

After several attempts to leave her Ghost World behind, Enid heads for the bus stop. The film ends on a bit of a magical note, but it fit perfectly.

Special mention in small roles. David Cross, one-half of the world's funniest sketch comedy team Mr. Show plays another loser at a record-collecting party who makes a move on the two teenagers. Brad Renfro (making up admirably for BULLY) plays Josh, a convenience store employee who is led around like a puppy by the two girls. Dave Sheridan plays the trashiest white-trash guy we've seen in the movies for a long time. He has a wife-beater farmer's tan, cut-off shorts, and aviator sunglasses as he buys a 40 ouncer and beef jerky from Josh for dinner. He was hilarious. Bob Balaban as Enid's dad is a man who has also been pummeled by life. Illeana Douglas is always good in a quirky role and here she plays Roberta, a summer school art instructor who wants to encourage genius but is surrounded by pompous and clueless kids instead.

A nice job all around. Not quite the laugh-out-loud funny film most people are expecting, but more of a quiet, more subtle, humorous movie. We know nothing will be off limits when we see a wheelchair-bound, neck-brace-wearing, former crack addict speaking at high school graduation as the film opens.

Nice easter egg at the end of the credits. Don't leave early.

Don't we all wish we could get on the bus at the abandoned bus stop and take a ride to a world in which we belong?

Second Viewing: Although I had the single worst copy of the DVD that the San Jose Public Library had to offer, it was just as enjoyable as the first time. I'm struck by a couple things. During the opening credits where we hear the wacky Indian 60s dance song, we peek into several people in their apartments until we end up looking in on Enid as she dances. The first woman is staring out the window sadly while a TV plays in the background, the second person is an overweight man eating dinner alone while also watching tv, we pass a third window where someone has just finished dinner for one, and at the fourth, a bored family watches tv, the husband in a wife beater, the child hitting the floor with a whiffle ball bat. When we glimpse Enid, she seems absolutely happy in her little world with the goofy song and dance number. The first four rooms were people in the deepest depth of a Ghost World. They've all but given up, while Enid is hanging on to the possibility of happiness.

I'm also struck by how badly Becka and Enid want to belong. They talk in the bitchy sarcastic tones of girls who know better, but they really long to be accepted. Their outfits call attention to themselves rather than push strangers away.

Steve Buscemi deserved all the praise he got for this role. His motives for how he treats his girlfriend are a bit more obvious after seeing it a second time. Enid: Don't you want to meet a nice woman who shares your interests? Seymour: No. I hate my interests.

Since I saw it the first time, I've also read the comic (or as the geeks say 'Graphic Novel') that this film was based on. To get this kind of characterization and depth from a little book is incredible. The book was good and fresh, but the film was something entirely different. A great adaptation.

Enid.....Thora Birch [Patriot Games; Clear And Present Danger; Now And Then; American Beauty; Anywhere But Here]
Rebecca.....Scarlett Johansson [If Lucy Fell; Fall; The Horse Whisperer]
Seymour.....Steve Buscemi [MichaelVox's Top TV Drama Homicide: Life On The Street; Lonesome Dove; New York Stories; Mystery Train; King Of New York; Miller's Crossing; Billy Bathgate; Barton Fink; Reservoir Dogs 'Easy for you to say, you don't have to be Mr. Pink'; Rising Sun; Twenty Bucks; The Hudsucker Proxy; Airheads; Pulp Fiction; Dead Man; Things To Do In Denver When You're Dead; Desperado; Big Night; Fargo; Trees Lounge; Con Air; The Wedding Singer; The Big Lebowski; Armageddon; The Sopranos; Big Daddy; 28 Days]
Josh.....Brad Renfro [The Client; The Cure; Sleepers; Bully]
Roberta.....Illeana Douglas [MichaelVox's Top TV Drama Homicide: Life On The Street; Seinfeld; The Larry Sanders Show; Frasier; The Drew Carey Show; Six Feet Under; Hello Again; The Last Temptation Of Christ; New York Stories; Goodfellas; Jungle Fever; Guilty By Suspicion; Cape Fear; Alive; Quiz Show; To Die For; Chasing Amy; Picture Perfect; Message In A Bottle; Stir Of Echoes; Action]
Pushy Guy (Gerrold).....David Cross [MichaelVox's Funniest Show Mr. Show; The Ben Stiller Show; The Truth About Cats And Dogs; The Cable Guy; Waiting For Guffman; Men In Black; Tenacious D]
Cinematography by Affonso Beato [The Big Easy; Great Balls Of Fire; Todo Sobre Mi Madre (All About My Mother)]
Written by Daniel Clowes and Terry Zwigoff
Directed by Terry Zwigoff [Crumb]

111 minutes

This Was Written On August 23, 2001
This was revised on June 6, 2002

10 Roger Ebert
8.2 Critical Consensus
8.0 San Francisco Chronicle
7.5 James Berardinelli

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