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Ghost World at 20: the comic-book movie that refused to conform
The astute and unconventional adaptation of Daniel Clowes’ source material remains one of the most unique examples of the genre
I n the 20 years since Ghost World was released, nerd culture has become dominant culture, turning a term once associated with the dweeby outcasts of 80s comedies to a shorthand nearly everyone can self-apply. Now you’re a nerd for seeing Ant-Man and the Wasp on opening day. In truth, the term was always meaningless, whether it applied to pitiable dorks with taped-together glasses and pocket protectors or the hordes jamming Hall H at ComicCon every year, hyped up over the biggest movies on the planet. Authentic nerds are exiled from the culture entirely – few people want to spend time around them, much less pay money to see them on the screen.
And so despite excellent reviews, superb performances, and abundant insight into the lives of such alienated misfits, Ghost World was not a hit in 2001, but has a cult following, which is perhaps the proper fate for a film that clings to the arcane. Based on Daniel Clowes’ comic book and directed by Terry Zwigoff, who co-wrote the script with Clowes, the film clearly loves these salty misanthropes and brings the audience into the private spaces where they dance along to 60s Bollywood numbers or pick through 30s blues rarities on 78, with their pops and cracks and evocative warps. But Clowes and Zwigoff have the integrity to allow their characters to be off-putting or cruel, and to make the kinds of terrible mistakes that account for their loneliness.
Take the very first scene with Enid (Thora Birch) and Rebecca (Scarlett Johansson), best friends rolling their eyes through a valedictory speech at their high school graduation. “High school is like the training wheels for the bicycle of real life” is an eye-roller of an opening line to be sure, but the speaker is wearing head gear from a near-fatal accident from drug and alcohol abuse and they can’t stand to see her turn that experience into lame inspirational bromides. “I liked her so much better when she was an alcoholic crack addict,” Enid snorts. She instinctually defaults to the meanest thing she could think to say. It’s both a weapon and and a defensive mechanism.
For starters, Ghost World is about how much that bicycle analogy stinks. Enid and Rebecca haven’t even looked at their bikes in four years, much less learned how to ride them, and the hard question they face, “What are you going to do now?”, leaves two basic options: conform or not conform. It’s heartbreaking for Enid to learn, over the course of the film, that she and Rebecca don’t share the same answer to that question. When they meet Seymour (Steve Buscemi), a middle-aged record collector with a crummy shared apartment and no romantic prospects, it’s like a visitation from the Ghost of Nonconformist Future. Rebecca recoils in horror. Enid is intrigued. “He’s the exact opposite of everything I hate.”
Seymour was Zwigoff’s creation, not the comic’s, and the two share the same music obsessions and probably plenty of other qualities, too. At first, he’s the target of a prank Enid and Rebecca decide to pull over a personals listing they find particularly pathetic, one where a man seeks a woman over a “moment” that he’s probably imagining. When Seymour turns up at Wowsville, a fake 50s diner they take pleasure in despising, the two have a notably different reaction: Rebecca laughs at this sad little dork in the ratty green cardigan, but Enid is struck by how casually he accepts this humiliation. He expected something like this to happen.
For guys like Seymour – and for future Seymours like Enid – the world has a way of affirming your most uncharitable assessments of it. Or maybe those assessments become a self-fulfilling prophecy. The main difference between Seymour and Enid is that Enid isn’t old enough to realize that she has to participate, however wearily, in a society that repulses her, which means that she can’t afford to get fired from a low-wage job on the first day and she may not find a romantic partner who shares her weird interests. And she learns, over the course of the film, that Rebecca is a conformist at heart, perhaps drawn to gravitational force of Enid’s sarcasm in high school, but now showing an interest in conventional guys and the department-store dish sets that could go in her new apartment. Enid is taking the hard road – and, in the film’s final moments, maybe a road that leads to oblivion.
As a comic book movie, Ghost World is subtly extraordinary, rejecting both the cutesy life-as-a-comic-book framing of a film like American Splendor two years later and the slickness of blockbusters to come. There are sequences that feel like a succession of highly detailed panels, like the “Jaan Pechechaan Ho” opening, which peers into the odd lives of people in Enid’s boxy apartment complex before we see her dancing in her graduation gown. But Zwigoff, whose only previous credits were the brilliant documentaries Louie Bluie and Crumb, isn’t given to flashy displays of artistry. He and Clowes trust that the types of vignettes that comprise Clowes’ comics – offbeat, mordantly funny, with an ever-so-slightly elevated realism – will not only cohere on screen, but have the same graphic vividness.
This may be Enid’s world, but there are worlds within worlds in Ghost World, each a short story in themselves, much like those apartment rooms in the opening sequence. And everywhere you look, there’s something provocative or funny or astutely observed: a remedial art class run by a teacher (Ileana Douglas) who favors a “confrontational” tampon-in-a-teacup display over Enid’s impulse to draw an illustration of Don Knotts; a store called Masterpiece Video where “every film is a masterpiece”, but no one knows the difference between Fellini’s 8 1/2 and 9 1/2 Weeks; a yard sale where Enid either refuses to sell her old stuff to uncool passersby or prices it too high, like $500 for the dress in which she claims she lost her virginity.
The film is made in the details. Sometimes it’s in details of performance, like Birch’s Enid having a wordless realization that Seymour is a kindred spirit or the way Buscemi suggests that Seymour knows his pedantry about the difference between blues and ragtime is killing his chances with a potential mate, but he can’t stop himself from doing it. Sometimes it’s an item of clothing, like Seymour’s cardigans or Enid’s ironic T-shirts. Zwigoff and Clowes are not above a simple, well-timed fart joke, either. In the context of Ghost World, even a fart can be existentially revealing.
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The Original Ending Of Ghost World Was Surprisingly Dark
A time capsule of the 1990s, the 2001 black comedy "Ghost World" is a haunting ode to the seedy underbelly of suburbia. Directed by Terry Zwigoff, the film was loosely inspired by the comic book series of the same name by Daniel Clowes. The two joined forces to bring the characters of Enid Coleslaw ( Thora Birch ), Rebecca Doppelmeyer ( Scarlett Johansson ), and Seymour ( Steve Buscemi ) to life.
The film follows Enid and Rebecca, two recent high school graduates, as they attempt to rectify their teenage angst by conforming to the real world. Their friendship wavers as Rebecca begins to grow up while Enid remains jaded and unwilling to compromise. Following a cruel prank on Seymour, Enid becomes attached to the idea of fixing his love life, and the two become friends. However, once Rebecca reveals the truth to Seymour, things go awry.
"Ghost World" ends with Enid seeing Norman (Charles C. Stevenson Jr.) finally boarding the out-of-service bus he'd been patiently waiting for throughout the film. She resumes his spot and catches the bus to an unknown destination. Meanwhile, Seymour appears to be making progress with his therapist as he works through the events of the summer. The mysterious bus offers an open ending, but some fans have unique interpretations that line up surprisingly well with the film's near-miss finale.
So, what was the original ending for "Ghost World"?
A less ambiguous fate
Some fans have interpreted Enid boarding the out-of-service bus as a metaphor for suicide, though Clowes was initially taken aback by that understanding. In a 2002 interview at a Comics and Graphic Novels Conference (via Little White Lies ), he said, "The first time I heard that I said, 'What? You're out of your mind. What are you talking about?' But I've heard that hundreds of times."
Interestingly, the original ending of "Ghost World" saw Seymour dying by suicide. In that same interview, Zwigoff said that he "briefly" considered going that route, "but we toned it down a bit" as it was too dark. Instead, the film ends with Seymour still in therapy and living with his overbearing mother.
Given the actual ending, there's a chance he considered or attempted suicide and moved back home during the recovery stage. He tells his therapist that he's "ready to get back to (his) old life," showing that things might have turned around for him. Given everything Seymour went through, however, it's also possible that he just needed time to recover from his hospitalization and couldn't live alone. Unlike the original ending, it's open for interpretation.
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Ghost World at 20: ‘In an era of teen comedies and American Pie, this was an antidote’
Based on a caustic comic book, the high-school movie has become a cult classic in the two decades since its release. rick burin talks to its star thora birch, director terry zwigoff, and comic creator daniel clowes about the film’s inception, filming and lasting legacy, article bookmarked.
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Utterly fresh and blisteringly funny: Scarlett Johansson and Thora Birch in Ghost World
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I thought I was never gonna work again,” says Thora Birch . “Honestly, and I hate to say this now, because I don’t know what I was thinking, but I thought it was really boring.” She laughs. “‘Who the heck is gonna give a crap about this bratty little bitch?’, you know?”
Birch is talking about the first time she saw Ghost World , the 2001 cult classic in which she starred as sardonic school leaver Enid Coleslaw. Her character took deadpan aim at the peppy and pretentious as she wandered, lost, around the cultural wasteland of modern America. She was a new kind of screen hero: detached, self-defeating and committed to the caustic one-liner, regardless of the cost. Ghost World , which turns 20 this year, is surely the funniest film of its era – and perhaps the saddest.
The film was based on a comic by Daniel Clowes. “It never in a million years occurred to me that it could be turned into a movie,” he says. “I was working in the tiny world of small-press comics – not a part of the world that Hollywood even knew about. It happened 100 per cent due to Terry’s interest in working with me.” Terry was Terry Zwigoff , a documentary maker who had created well-received films about country-blues musician Louie Bluie and cartoonist Robert Crumb – two worlds that would bleed into the movie.
“After making Crumb , I started to get scripts sent to me,” says Zwigoff. “I read dozens and dozens of them and thought, ‘These are so contrived and false’ – the ruggedly handsome hero who’s both a tough-guy mountain climber and a nuclear scientist. I could not imagine being involved in such nonsense for a year or two of my life just for a pay cheque. I’m not a writer, but thought, ‘Even I can write better than this slop.’” He wanted to create something rooted in reality. “It’s ironic that I resorted to a comic book to do so, but Dan’s comic wasn’t the typical comic, it was grounded in truth and the characters talked like real people.”
Their collaboration on the screenplay took three years. They expanded the comic’s existential snapshots into the bittersweet story of Enid’s estrangement from her more conventional best friend, Rebecca, and her growing preoccupation with a misanthropic, middle-aged, blues-obsessed dork called Seymour (Steve Buscemi). When Birch, fresh from American Beauty , read the script, she was desperate to play Enid.
- Rock, groupies, golden gods and that Quaalude kiss: Almost Famous at 20 by the stars and director who made it
What was it about that character? “Basically she had every opinion that I had at the time!” laughs Birch. “At that phase of my life I was just reaching adulthood and not ready for it and not feeling like I ever would be, and so a lot of her lines and the outlook on life were things I really felt, but at that time, I didn’t feel Thora Birch could go around expressing.”
Zwigoff and Clowes wanted her – but to play Rebecca. “They didn’t really see me as an Enid,” says Birch. “But I loved the part so much that I was like, ‘I’m gonna go to lunch with these guys, I’m gonna cut my hair, I’m gonna dye it, and put on these fake glasses and show ’em.’ And it worked.”
It may have worked too well. Though Birch had “a blast” during filming, the line between herself and Enid grew increasingly blurred. “I was in love with the character beforehand but through the process of shooting the film, and the relationships I was developing, that kind of fuelled me – or maybe tricked me – into going for it with abandon. So that… I think it became a bit of a rabbit hole. I had gone so far into Enid that I really was only Enid for a while, maybe for around a year and a half after filming. It took me a long time to re-find my own identity, separate from her. To the degree that it even affected some of my friendships and my relationships.”
There must have been something seductive about negotiating the world as Enid? “Yeah, it’s her lack of filter,” says Birch. “If she wants to tell a redneck hick to go die, then she’s gonna do it. She calls out something that she thinks is lame. She says what she feels. And there is something liberating and freeing about that but it also can cause a lot of damage.”
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For teenagers offered a diet of witless frat films, seeing Enid on screen was certainly liberating. “In an era of American Pie and all these teen comedies, this was an antidote to all that,” says Birch. Enid’s worldview is typified by the early scene in which she sways mockingly to the soporific stylings of a dance band, before declaring their performance “so bad it’s gone past good and back to bad again”. Her only moments of release come through music: dancing to Mohammed Rafi, dyeing her hair to the Buzzcocks, and listening to the country blues of Skip James on repeat. But anything that fails to impress, she demolishes with irony or torpedoes with scorn. That goes for every other area of her life too. She is drawn to Seymour because “he’s the exact opposite of everything I really hate”.
The original cover art for Daniel Clowes’ Ghost World
People saw themselves in Birch’s character. “There are so many people that have been Enid,” says Illeana Douglas, who played her art teacher. “There are always people who are outside society.” Pop culture writer Hayley Campbell has been immersed in the world of comic books since she was a child. Growing up in Australia, she also felt drawn to Enid. “It’s quite a thing to watch it as a teenage girl, because she’s at a point of frustration where I was,” she explains. “She’s yearning for something different and doesn’t know what, but feels increasingly pressured to find it. And in her frustration she’s even losing the one friend she thought also got that idea.”
Beneath the film’s barrage of mordant gags, that melancholy undertow can get missed. “The whole story arc is how, in some sad way, she can’t even keep a best friend,” says Birch. “Enid is repressing a lot of hurt and anger about a lot of things: growing up without a mum; having a listless father figure who doesn’t really know how to deal with an adolescent young woman. Those are things she never discusses, not even with Rebecca. With the delivery, it was pretty clear-cut – just deadpan your way through it – but underneath that there are all these conflicting emotions. Which is specific to her, but also universal for someone going through that transitional phase of life.”
Ghost World was a springboard for the 15-year-old Scarlett Johansson, cast as Enid’s best friend, Rebecca. Their friendship is no less affecting for being seen only once it has peaked. That past closeness is rendered in small details: a look of fond chastisement on Johansson’s face as Birch toys with a prey, or her passing reference to Enid’s “little old lady phase”. Rebecca’s defining moment is to react with delight to an ironing board that folds out from a cupboard – a sign that she has crossed the Rubicon to a bourgeois life – but she is no villain, just someone finding her place in the world. Like so much of the film, Johansson’s performance is a tightrope walk, and she never stumbles. Many fans find themselves relating first to Enid, then to Rebecca, and finally to Seymour.
Thora Birch and Steve Buscemi as Enid and Seymour
Ghost World has moments of overpowering sadness: Birch curled up on her bed, sobbing uncontrollably; her wounded expression in the art studio when she exposes her soul and has it trampled upon. And her devastating climactic speech to Buscemi, which has no conclusions, only pain: “I know I’m a total disappointment to everyone … and there is just no way to explain how I feel.”
More cryptically, there is also the film’s ending. “Many interpreted it to mean Enid died by suicide,” says Zwigoff. “I personally thought of the ending as more positive: that she’s moving on with her life, that she had faith in herself.” Birch’s reading is far bleaker. “Honestly, it’s a sad film, to me,” she says. “I have a very dark view of where that story is leading, unfortunately.”
Those contrasting viewpoints underline Ghost World ’s complexity; everyone takes something different from it. For Douglas, it is principally about nonconformity. “In the end, even Seymour conforms,” she says. “When Enid goes in and he’s wearing the blue jeans that his new girlfriend purchased for him, it is this abandoning of everything they’ve made fun of.” Others see it as a film about boredom, or about being unwilling or unable to grow up, while some respond to the characters’ nostalgia for a time they haven’t lived through. Zwigoff had intended partly to critique consumerism: “I wanted to set the story against a background of the sweeping, bland, contrived monoculture of which mindless consumerism is, of course, a part.”
All of those readings are possible because Zwigoff refuses to spoonfeed his audience or file down his characters’ complexities. “One big thing with Terry is he does not worry about whether a character is likeable or not,” says Douglas. “He trusts the audience that that’s our decision.” Not everyone was won over. Though reviews were overwhelmingly positive, with Roger Ebert writing that he wanted to “hug this movie”, veteran critic Andrew Sarris described Enid as “smug, complacent, cruel, deceitful, thoughtless, malicious and disloyal. Worst of all, she’s rarely funny and never charming.”
Ghost World director Terry Zwigoff ahead of an anniversary event
The critics’ other bugbear, since magnified with the increasing propensity to view films through a moral lens, was the age-gap relationship, and particularly its consummation. Campbell has little patience with that analysis. “To call Seymour and Enid’s friendship ‘problematic’ is to be reductive and unimaginative about who or what teenage girls might find interesting,” she says.
The film’s influence was seismic. It was one of two screenplays Diablo Cody bought copies of before writing Juno , and its DNA can be seen in everything from HBO’s Euphoria to The Last Black Man in San Francisco , the debut feature for which Joe Talbot won Best Director at Sundance. “Thora created someone that made me feel less alone in the world,” says Talbot. In his movie’s most celebrated scene, Birch semi-reprises her Ghost World role. “I like to imagine her character in our movie is as if Enid never got off the bus, and it took her to San Francisco, and she became a tech person and hates what her life has become,” he says.
Seen today, Ghost World remains utterly fresh, and blisteringly funny. Each person I speak to can point instantly to a favourite moment – or several. Zwigoff’s choices include Buscemi’s explosion of rage when a family crosses too slowly in front of his car (“Have some more kids, why don’t you!”), while Clowes is fond of the trailer he wrote for the fake film The Flower That Drank the Moon , brilliantly spearing arthouse pomposity. Birch picks the scenes between Enid and her father’s girlfriend: “Her dealing with Teri Garr is just so brutal and so awful – but I love it.” Campbell often finds herself reflecting on Seymour’s immortal words: “‘I don’t want to meet someone who shares my interests. I hate my interests.’ That to me is one of the finest lines ever written.”
Thora Birch and Illeana Douglas at a Ghost World event in 2017
Beyond those lasting virtues, Ghost World may have a special resonance right now. It is, after all, a film about loneliness. “Loneliness does something to you,” says Campbell. “Loneliness and being alone in your own head. And I think this past year has taught that to many people.” Birch agrees, though she says the movie’s jaundiced outlook will always attract like-minded souls. “Introspection is really gripping a lot of people. So I think that comes into play for somebody watching Ghost World now – we’re all kind of forced to be closed off from others. But also: discontentment is not going out of fashion, you know?”
Twenty years on, Enid endures. As our interview comes to a close, I ask Birch to tell me something about her relationship with Ghost World that nobody knows. She pauses for a moment. “Once in a great while, I’ll still scribble in a weird place, like on a film set, or even… I’ve defaced some walls I shouldn’t have. If I’m struck with the moment, I’ll still say ‘Enid was here.’ I’ll just scribble it somewhere. I don’t know why.”
‘Ghost World’ is available on Criterion Blu-ray from the US. The soundtrack has been released on vinyl by Cinema Paradiso Recordings
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Ghost World Endures for Its Cynicism—and Pathos
A Criterion Collection re-release of the 2001 classic of teen disaffection feels dated in all the best ways.
“This is so bad it’s almost good,” Rebecca (Scarlett Johansson) says with a laugh to her best friend Enid (Thora Birch) at their high-school graduation, marveling at the unironic chintziness of the band onstage. “This is so bad, it’s gone past good and back to bad again,” Enid snarks back. If the early minutes of Terry Zwigoff’s 2001 classic of disaffection Ghost World have any dramatic tension at all, it lies in that never-ending debate: What enjoyment, sincere or otherwise, can we draw from our increasingly decrepit culture? Or, to put it differently, what’s it like to be a teenager in the 1990s?
When Ghost World came out 16 years ago, it felt like the apotheosis of alienated Generation X cool, a movement of sorts that had roots in the music, alternative comics, and indie filmmaking of the ’80s and ’90s. It pushed back against the conformist monoculture of the Reagan era, embraced a strange kind of kitsch that reflected on the even more homogenous 1950s, and traded punk’s angry, vocal rebelliousness for an attitude of total remove. As a remastered, director-approved edition is released by the Criterion Collection this week, Ghost World feels undeniably dated, but in the best way—a reminder of an age since passed, told with the kind of universal empathy that helps it endure.
Daniel Clowes on Creating Wilson and Translating Him to Screen
Dan clowes, author of 'ghost world,' has one rule for writing dialogue.
Boys Are Not Defective
Ghost World sprang from the mind of Daniel Clowes, the prolific writer and illustrator who was best known at the time for his long-running comic book Eightball , released from 1989 to 2004 (on an ever-more irregular schedule). Clowes was undoubtedly indebted to the work of indie cartoonists like Robert Crumb, legends of past generations who had upended their industry with explicit, countercultural imagery and storytelling that also plumbed the dark side of America’s folksy past. But while Clowes’ early work channeled that nightmarish vibe, his later approach was often more internal, told with a veneer of small-town friendliness. He was fascinated with nerdy obsessives, social outcasts, and the growing sameness of pop culture.
In Ghost World , Enid presents herself as an outcast—a bold act of rebellion in earlier generations that has since lost its effectiveness. When Enid dyes her hair green in the middle of the film, she’s immediately mocked by the aggressive clientele at the local record store. “Didn’t they tell you? Punk rock is over,” John (Pat Healy) crows at her. “You really want to fuck up the system? Go to business school. That’s what I'm going to do. Get a job in some big corporation and, like, fuck things up from the inside.” Enid protests that she was going for a “1977 original punk rock look”—an aesthetic that even Rebecca confesses went over her head.
Ghost World the comic is a quieter, impressionistic work, with Enid (who is more brittle and outwardly negative) and Rebecca (slightly more conventional, if similarly cynical) wandering around their nameless town after graduating from high school and remarking on the pointlessness of everything they see. It’s a narrative of growing up and growing apart that soaks the reader in alienation and despair. When Clowes began to adapt the work for screen, he initially tried to transcribe his writing word for word, but quickly realized a film would require a clearer narrative to succeed.
The finished product is ascribed to both Clowes and Zwigoff, who before Ghost World had directed the acclaimed, bizarre documentary Crumb (about Robert Crumb’s life and career). They did a beautiful job capturing the original comic’s tone, down to the slightly oversaturated visuals and the almost robotic beats of its early scenes, where Enid and Rebecca present a united front of disgust toward everything. It also makes the first act of the film almost embarrassingly prickly on re-watch; the unabated scorn on display for everyone they run into, ranging from high school airheads to sad-sack waiters, can come off as unnecessarily vicious.
But Ghost World succeeds not because of its caustic humor, but because of its understanding of its leads, who are as lost and rootless as the targets of their mockery. Enid (her full name, Enid Coleslaw, is an anagram of Daniel Clowes) shuns obvious affection and commits acts of outright cruelty, like responding to a pathetic-sounding personal ad with a prank call and then lurking at a restaurant to watch her victim Seymour (Steve Buscemi) realize he’s been stood up. Clowes, Zwigoff, and Birch’s great achievement is turning this shiftless misanthrope into a sympathetic hero—an effect Clowes obviously struggled to replicate with Wilson , a more recent adaptation of his own work.
Johansson’s wonderfully subtle performance as Rebecca works because you can see, from minute one, that she and her friend are almost doomed to drift apart. Rebecca lets on early that she lacks Enid’s ruthlessness and bottomless well of disdain. Enid then gravitates towards Seymour (a career-defining performance for Buscemi), becoming fascinated by this outcast of a different generation, a record collector who can’t help but correct people over the difference between blues and ragtime. To Enid, Seymour represents some strange fantasy of her future, someone who’s steadfastly refused to conform with anything remotely considered “cool,” even though he’s highly aware of how sad his own life appears from the outside.
It’s the genuine sweetness of Enid and Seymour’s relationship, coupled with the realization that it’s doomed to go nowhere, that makes Ghost World such a lovely work despite its hostility. And it’s Clowes’ refusal to tack toward a happy ending, or even a darkly miserable one, that helps it linger. In the end, Enid gets on a mysterious bus heading to a mysterious future, aware that the route she’s boarding was shut down by the city years ago. Many have interpreted that as a metaphor for suicide, a reading that Clowes initially said he was surprised by . To me, the ambiguity of Enid’s future, and her confusion over her place in the world, is the crux of those final moments. Ghost World might have contempt for the corporate, homogenized world its characters are stuck in, but beneath the sarcastic quips lies deep pathos.
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Ghost World Reviews
[Director Terry Zwigoff] has a gift for understated moments of wry humor and a sensitivity to the ennui surrounding the lost Generation Y girls so busy sniping and skewering the “losers” around them to find any direction in their own floating lives
Full Review | May 6, 2023
This kind of subtle moral isn’t as readily available to most audiences, but should appeal to the younger generation who are strapped with the burden of carrying society into a new century filled with strife, misery and great opportunity.
Full Review | Original Score: 3/4 | Dec 20, 2022
Ghost World remains pretty special in its old-boned melancholy.
Full Review | Dec 1, 2022
A coming-of-age film that actually tries to show an uncompromised vision of a kid finding herself, even if she doesn’t always like what she finds.
Full Review | Aug 11, 2022
Ghost World is very funny but also very perceptive, and it offers Steve Buscemi one of the defining roles of his career.
Full Review | Original Score: 3.5/4 | Nov 22, 2021
... one of the best films made by middle-aged men about what women might feel when confronted by the comic, tragic un-loveliness of middle-aged men themselves...
Full Review | Original Score: 4/5 | Mar 10, 2021
Zwigoff's portrait of adolescent alienation commands a potent portrait of interiority as concerns its lonely souls searching for likeminded personalities within a superficial void.
Full Review | Original Score: 3.5/5 | Sep 9, 2020
An elegy to the rebellious Gen X dream, and a crash course in existence for all 18-year-olds who followed.
Full Review | Aug 4, 2020
We care about these characters and, despite themselves, they care for one another, too. Irony meets empathy here and both are better for it.
Full Review | Feb 24, 2020
That is part of its magic and its beauty, I think - its ability to speak to and for those who don't quite feel at home in mainstream society.
Full Review | Original Score: 4/4 | Jun 4, 2019
Ghost World is animated by a tension between Seymour's 78 rpm universe and Enid's dedication to a punk etho
Full Review | Oct 31, 2018
A blend of old and new leaves the film with a timeless feel, one that emphasizes that no matter what significant changes society undergoes people are pretty much the same.
Full Review | Original Score: 5/5 | Oct 31, 2018
The greatest distinction of "Ghost World" is its singular spirit. Here's a dark, deadpan comedy about alienated kids that manages to be smart, surpassingly odd, extremely funny and mysteriously endearing at the same time.
Full Review | Apr 12, 2013
While this isn't a showy or flashy movie, it has social, psychological, and ultimately mystical overtones that raise it leagues above most other teen-centered comedies.
Full Review | Original Score: 3/4 | Apr 12, 2013
The modest yet redeeming triumph of Ghost World is the offhand way it brings to the screen a streak of American dark humor that is dour, resilient and unexpectedly infectious.
See it for Birch's hostile stare and Johansson's devastating monotone.
Like "Rushmore" with a female slant, "Ghost World" tackles the true torches we often keep to ourselves as well as the struggle of feeling like a specter, or, as Enid says, as though "everyone's too stupid to realize you."
Full Review | Original Score: 4/4 | Sep 24, 2010
Most of Ghost World is funny, but the laughs are inextricably tied to the painful alienation and self-loathing that comes with living on society's fringes.
Full Review | Jul 14, 2010
By sharp turns poignant, disturbing and hysterically funny.
Full Review | Jul 7, 2010
...satisfying in ways that more than compensate for the film's soft ending.
Full Review | Original Score: B | Jul 21, 2009
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Never Growing Up: Terry Zwigoff's Ghost World At 20 David Robb , May 21st, 2021 08:27
Ghost World was far from the first coming of age film, but its portrayal of unresolved cynicism and self-consciousness still resonates 20 years on, finds David Robb
For a particular type of young person searching for an identity in the early 2000s, Terry Zwigoff’s Ghost World functioned as both a helpful instruction manual and a cautionary tale. A movie adaptation of Daniel Clowes’ graphic novel of the same name, it follows the exploits of rebellious teen protagonist Enid (Thora Birch), and her best friend Rebecca (Scarlett Johansson) in their nameless suburban town. Sneering at the local losers, poseurs, and normies, they fumble with their newfound freedom after graduating from high school, foregoing college and trying to figure out what they should do next.
Anyone who had ever masked their own adolescent insecurities with obscure musical taste and eccentric outfit choices immediately felt a kinship with Enid’s self-conscious non-conformity, perhaps hoping to emulate her spontaneity and confidence. And in Seymour (Steve Buscemi), the lonely middle-aged record collector she ruthlessly mocks and eventually befriends, we saw a bleak potential endpoint of all this youthful contrarianism. But 20 years since the film’s release, with many of us now much closer in age to the latter character, it’s still Enid’s unresolved story that resonates the strongest. Watching her in 2021 feels a lot like hanging out with an old friend, while acknowledging that they’re someone who we ultimately had to outgrow. The last time I saw the film, it called to mind a memorable Joan Didion quote, from her essay about keeping journals and the concept of self-authoring: “we are well advised to keep on nodding terms with the people we used to be, whether we find them attractive company or not.”
Ghost World was far from the first quirky coming-of-age film, following in a tradition that dates back at least as far as Hal Ashby’s 1971 comedy Harold and Maude – another story about an inter-generational quasi-romance. Zwigoff’s portrait of slackers and oddballs in a suburban setting also had some similarities to the early 90s work of Kevin Smith and Richard Linklater, two figures who were garnering a cult following around the same time that Clowes’ original stories were first published in his long-running comic book Eightball . As for the film’s distinctive deadpan tone, this had been a notable feature of Wes Anderson’s breakout hit Rushmore some three years earlier, as well as MTV’s archetypal Gen X animation Daria , whose titular high-schooler shared Enid’s penchant for thick glasses and sarcastic put-downs. In spite of all this, Ghost World ’s 2001 release now makes it feel quite unique – the product of a singularly liminal, transitional era. It seems to exist somewhere in between the jaded cynicism of the previous decade and the anxious, internet-addled narcissism of millennials that would soon follow.
One of Zwigoff’s masterstrokes was to eschew the contemporary cultural references that peppered Clowes’ comics, making the film’s setting deliberately vague and anonymous. This lack of specificity gives Ghost World ’s visual and auditory palette a timeless quality absent from many of its precursors, and from the slew of offbeat movies that followed in its wake throughout the 2000s and early 2010s. I wasn’t immune to the charms of Juno ’s Moldy Peaches-inspired ukulele duet finale, and I could at least hypothetically accept Garden State ’s premise that someone’s life could be changed by hearing The Shins, but these films’ efforts to capture the indie zeitgeist came with a built-in expiry date. With Ghost World , our pair of misfits bond instead over a rare ‘78 of Skip James’ ‘Devil Got My Woman’ – a crackly recording of a haunting blues lament that even Harold Chasen might have dismissed for being too old. Much has changed since the film’s release, but it’s this feeling of being perpetually out of step with the times that allowed it to age so well – and it makes the characters and setting relatable despite the broad strokes of their comic strip origins.
Of course, the way people engage with music has been entirely transformed in the intervening two decades, perhaps more than any other aspect of our culture. No longer a hidden relic from a bygone age, ‘Devil Got My Woman’ is just a few clicks away from most of the population these days, on a YouTube sidebar or any number of Spotify playlists (probably including one called something like “Songs to Seduce Your Hipster Crush”). The identities that once shakily formed around carefully-curated music collections and other cultural artefacts have been toppled by the free-for-all of streaming platforms and their impersonal algorithms. Conversely, while Seymour’s depressing record collector party is used as a punchline in the film, today’s proliferation of Tumblrs, subreddits, and other niche online spaces tends to encourage even the most well-adjusted people to bond over their most idiosyncratic interests. It’s hard not to wonder how Enid’s aestheticism would be affected by all this. Would she still be into 1960s Bollywood movies now that anybody can get their hands on them? Would she be able to connect more with others, or would she have lost everything that defined who she was? If anybody can be Enid, does that mean that nobody can?
The film is preoccupied with these ideas of authenticity, coolness, and conformity. Though it tempers its snobbery with a healthy dose of self-awareness, it’s clearly put off by modern society’s lurch towards a crass homogeneity. Oddly, this may now be its most dated aspect. In the absence of an inescapable monoculture, it doesn’t feel all that important to debate whether something is “so bad it’s good” or “so bad it’s gone past good and back to bad again”. For better or for worse, the kind of attitude that distinguishes the blues from Ghost World ’s cringey bar band Blues Hammer, and the Fellini classic 8 ½ from the trashy Mickey Rourke vehicle 9 ½ Weeks , is now regularly dismissed as a kind of elitist gatekeeping.
Those who came of age in the years following the release of Ghost World are no longer quite so keen to judge, or to chart a hierarchy of different artistic niches, and this is partly due to increasing awareness of how race, gender, class, sexuality and various other social factors determine people’s sensibilities. Wary of causing offence or appearing ignorant of their own privilege relative to others, subsequent generations have tended to avoid the kind of snark that Gen Xers once revelled in. And, as the internet has helped to give marginalised voices more of a platform than ever before, inclusivity and diversity seem to be just as important as getting one over on the squares.
It may sometimes come across as aloof, but Ghost World is definitely conscious of its broader social context, and it engages thoughtfully with America’s troubled history primarily through its art class subplot. After failing art in school, Enid is forced to enrol in a remedial summer course run by a pretentious, overly earnest teacher. For her final project, she borrows a wildly offensive 1920s advertising poster once used by fast food chain Cook’s Chicken (from when it was known as C**n Chicken), claiming it as a found object that comments on the persistence of racism in society. Creating a scandal when displayed in an exhibition, the image ends up scuppering her chances of going to a prestigious art school, where she might have found some sense of purpose and belonging.
Though it came out over a decade before so-called “cancel culture” and faux-progressive re-branding became a part of everyday conversation, the film succeeds in predicting the contours of this discourse quite accurately. The outrage from Enid’s classmates, the art world, and the general public seems as superficial as it is righteous, the kind of response that sees depiction as endorsement and risks entirely missing the point of an artwork, as well as punishing a creator while letting the true perpetrators of historical injustice off the hook. And, while it’s clear where our sympathies are supposed to lie, the film doesn’t suggest that Enid is any more committed to tackling racism than either her critics or her targets are. After her own impressive cartoon sketches are dismissed as trivial entertainment, she uses the offensive caricature mostly just to provoke a reaction, and to second-guess her teacher’s demands for something emotional and honest.
This potentially thorny subject would undoubtedly cause heated debate if the film were to be released today, but its languid pacing and gently satirical tone allows us to see the basic human vulnerabilities that always underpin conflicts like these. As ridiculous as they may often appear, we can see that everyone involved is ultimately just trying to do what they think is expected of them, while trying to hang on to their own sense of what’s right and true in an increasingly alienating world. And, without protesting her innocence, Ghost World takes pains to distinguish Enid’s youthful, bratty cynicism from the subtler, more self-serving kind displayed by those in real positions of power.
“People still hate each other, but they just know how to hide it better, or something,” is Seymour’s analysis of the socio-political upheavals of the last century or so, offered up shortly before he admits that the corporate chicken franchise with a barely-disguised racist legacy is now his employer. This ambivalent attitude perfectly sums up the compromises of capitalism and the disillusionment of adulthood, which Ghost World illustrates poignantly, particularly in its second half. As the mystery and enchantment of Enid and Rebecca’s small-town freakshow fades, and financial responsibilities begin to take over, the local weirdos they used to enjoy become boring customers just like everyone else. Mass-produced homeware takes precedence over treasured possessions from childhood, which are now worth nothing more than a couple of dollars to strangers at a yard sale. And old people who used to sit in the same spot every day are suddenly gone for good.
This sense of melancholy at the heart of the film has only deepened over time, as the two decades since its release have stripped away many of the elements we might have recognized or wanted to identify with. What’s left is a ghostly suburbia being gradually abandoned to economic ruin, and a lost teenage girl lying on her bedroom floor, playing the same sad song over and over. The struggle to carve out a place for yourself in the world, which once seemed like a youthful rite of passage, has since revealed itself to be a lifelong pursuit with no guarantee of success. But as tempting as it might be to retreat from this into ironic detachment or a fetishisation of the past, it’s ultimately something we all have to face up to. What we’ve hopefully gained in the intervening years, as we try to mature both individually and as a culture, is a crucial sense of perspective. Anyone can relate to the raw emotion of an old blues record, but not everyone can just hop on the next bus and leave town.
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Letterboxd — Your life in film
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2001 Directed by Terry Zwigoff
Accentuate the negative.
Two quirky, cynical teenaged girls try to figure out what to do with their lives after high school graduation. After they play a prank on an eccentric, middle aged record collector, one of them befriends him, which causes a rift in the girls' friendship.
Thora Birch Scarlett Johansson Steve Buscemi Brad Renfro Illeana Douglas Bob Balaban Stacey Travis Charles C. Stevenson Jr. Dave Sheridan Tom McGowan Debra Azar Brian George Pat Healy Rini Bell T.J. Thyne Ezra Buzzington Lindsey Girardot Joy Bisco Venus DeMilo Thomas Ashley Peldon Chachi Pittman Janece Jordan Kaileigh Brielle Martin Alexander Fors Marc Vann James Sie Paul Keith David Cross J.J. 'Bad Boy' Jones Show All… Dylan Jones Martin Grey Steve Pierson Jake La Botz Johnny Irion Nate Wood Charles Schneider Sid Hillman Joshua Wheeler Patrick Fischler Daniel Graves Matt Doherty Joel Michaely Debi Derryberry Joseph Sikora Brett Gilbert Alex Solowitz Tony Ketcham Mary Bogue Brian Jacobs Patrick Yonally Lauren Bowles Lorna Scott Jeff Murray Jerry Rector John Bunnell Diane Salinger Anna Berger Bruce Glover Teri Garr Danny Allen Joan Blair Michelle McGinty Will Forte
Assistant Directors Asst. Directors
William Paul Clark Dawn Massaro
John Malkovich Lianne Halfon Russell Smith
Executive Producers Exec. Producers
Pippa Cross Janette Day
Terry Zwigoff Daniel Clowes
Original Writer Original Writer
Michael R. Miller Carole Kravetz Aykanian
Camera Operator Camera Operator
Production Design Production Design
Edward T. McAvoy
Art Direction Art Direction
Alan E. Muraoka
Set Decoration Set Decoration
Lisa Fischer Kris Fuller Vincent Luizzi John Rankin Robert Lee Robinson
Visual Effects Visual Effects
Charles Croughwell John Branagan
John Nutt David Parker Mark Weingarten David Franklin Bergad Piotr Filipowski
Costume Design Costume Design
Mr. Mudd Production Granada Productions Capitol Films United Artists Advanced Medien Jersey Shore
Germany UK USA
Releases by Date
16 jun 2001, theatrical limited, 20 jul 2001, 18 oct 2001, 16 nov 2001, 04 jan 2002, 14 feb 2002, 17 may 2002, 05 jun 2002, 27 jun 2002, 08 nov 2002, 21 jun 2003, 23 jul 2009, 17 jul 2005, releases by country.
- Theatrical M
- Theatrical 6
- Theatrical 15
- Theatrical 12
- TV 12 Yorin
- Physical 12 DVD
- Theatrical M/12
- Theatrical 16 ICAA: 124601
- Premiere Seattle International Film Festival
- Theatrical limited R
111 mins More at IMDb TMDb Report this page
Review by k ★★★ 7
steve buscemi is a manic pixie dream boy
Review by #1 gizmo fan ★★★★½ 5
"Dear Josh, we came by to fuck you, but you were not home. Therefore you are gay. Signed, Tiffany and Amber."
Review by feat. dante from the dmc series ★★½ 4
"oh my god, he just ordered a giant glass of milk."
"that's a vanilla milkshake."
Review by eely ★★★ 26
there was a moment in this movie where i found steve buscemi attractive for about seven seconds and i will never be the same again.
Review by kayla ★★★ 25
I hate Enid she sucks
Review by ˗ˏˋ suspirliam ˊˎ˗ ★★ 9
booksmart’s emo cousin
Review by Laura ★★★½ 2
scarjo saying “he gives me, like, a total boner” in her deep, monotone voice got me feeling some time of way. love her lack of energy, go girl give us nothing
Review by Lucy ★★★★★ 6
“medium? why sir, do you not know that for a mere 25 cents more you can purchase a large beverage? and you know, i’m only telling you this because we’re such good friends. medium is really only for suckers who don’t know the concept of value”
Review by Keith Goulette ★★★★½ 5
That moment when Rebecca is showing Enid her new apartment and says “Oh wait I have to show you something really cool,” then proceeds to show her a fold-out ironing board. There’s never been a more accurate example of the transition from adolescence to adulthood tbh.
Review by beca ★★★★ 6
why does the scene with steve buscemi eating chicken have better sound editing than like 75% of the movie? i’m hearing that chicken chewing in hd.
Review by calvin ★★★ 2
enid...you are mad annoying baby 💋
Review by Aaron Michael ★★★
Way too relatable because I also developed a crush on Steve Buscemi at an inappropriate age.
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FILM; A Director Who Likes To Sit Alone In the Dark
By David Thomson
- July 22, 2001
TERRY ZWIGOFF admits to what his producer has told him: that when she's pitching one of his movies, it's easier if he doesn't come along. ''Maybe I'm not very good in a pitch meeting,'' he says. ''I come across as rather self-deprecating, and they don't like that at all. My producer warns me: 'Quit knocking yourself. They're not getting it. Go in there and be rather arrogant.' I said, 'I can't do that.' ''
So this is a very bad, or demanding, day for Mr. Zwigoff, a 53-year-old writer-director, in that he has to sit down with an interviewer and talk about his second full-length picture, ''Ghost World,'' which opened on Friday. Worse than talk about himself, he has to have his picture taken. And so this small, rather fragile, graying figure, with a wave of hair lifting off his sad face as if it might have been drawn there, has to let himself be arranged and posed. There are film people who are nourished by that attention. Not Mr. Zwigoff. ''Absolute torture,'' he whispers as the photographer sets up. ''Every minute of it.''
As a gesture at small talk, he concedes that the ideal photograph would be of him sitting in his small San Francisco house, up on Bernal Heights, in total darkness. You might wonder whether this guy -- a movie director, after all -- isn't making shtick out of self-deprecation. But there is a doormat at the house with its flat message, ''Go Away.'' If it's refreshing to find a movie person as ready to be that classic nonparticipant, Bartleby the Scrivener, it's also unnerving to feel the melancholy or displacement that Herman Melville was on to, and how far Mr. Zwigoff's vision could be enjoyed in the dark.
O.K., the vision is not much guarded by self-love. Still, this is the man who made the quite remarkable, tender (and melancholy) 1994 documentary ''Crumb,'' about the cartoon genius Robert Crumb and his serenely strange family, and who has now delivered ''Ghost World,'' his first feature film, about two teenage girls in their awkward years, a film that is drawn from Daniel Clowes's underground comic books of the same name.
''It took us five years setting it up,'' he says. ''We were turned down by everyone. I actually thought the script was quite good. But now that I've finished this movie, every day I get new scripts from people who want to know what I'll do next. And in all of these scripts there is this guy who looks like Brad Pitt. And not only is he a nuclear scientist -- he's a rock-climber, too. And his name is Cody, or Cole! There's nothing I recognize. And there's this director I know, Michael Lehmann, who made 'Heathers,' and before I went down to Los Angeles to do 'Ghost World' I asked him to talk and explain things, because I didn't know how films were made. He said, 'Don't worry about the technical things, because there are terrific guys who are covering for you.'
'' 'But,' he said, 'if you really want to work again, as early as you can in your picture, you stick in a really showy tracking and Steadicam shot with a lot of integrated blocking. You do that and you will work again. Because there are producers who just fast-forward through everything, looking to see if you can do that smooth stuff.' ''
With Terry Zwigoff, knowing whether he really wants to work again is the big question. He's proud of ''Ghost World'' and he believed he'd done something special with ''Crumb'' long before it opened, when the money people thought it was this meandering account of creepy people. But then the public -- or a significant part of it -- embraced the wistful, respectful portrait of talented outsiders. It won prizes, accolades and a respectable (for a documentary) $3.4 million at the box office. ''Crumb'' was a critical success -- but not even the attention could turn the glamour-resistant Crumb family into Hollywood people or ideal American consumers. The film had a respect for shabbiness, eccentricity and affable waywardness that Cole and Cody don't get.
So ''Ghost World'' was a struggle. ''First of all,'' Mr. Zwigoff says, ''I would go in and show them the comic book. Then we had a script. But often they hadn't looked at the script -- or even the comic book. They said: 'Hey, comics are hot. ''X-Men'' made money. ''Tomb Raider'' is going to make money. So pitch us what it's about.' ''
Whereas, Enid, the heroine of ''Ghost World,'' is not exactly Lara Croft. Enid is ''an outsider,'' Mr. Zwigoff says: ''She doesn't fit in. That's part of her dilemma. She's trying to find some place for herself in a world that's rapidly turning into a big consumer theme park, a monoculture without anything authentic remaining. She's trying to connect with something truthful in this culture that's basically designed to just sell you things.''
Mr. Zwigoff liked comic books long before ''Crumb.'' He had even tried, with Robert Crumb, to get a few script ideas going, but Mr. Crumb had the habit of going off on a 30-page binge about some girl's legs.
Mr. Zwigoff's wife, Melissa Axelrod, was working then at the Last Gasp Publishing Company, a comic book publisher, and she would bring home stacks of their comics. Mr. Zwigoff especially liked the writer of 'Ghost World,'' Mr. Clowes, so Ms. Axelrod suggested turning his comic book into a movie.
''It was very episodic,'' Mr. Zwigoff says. ''Didn't have a plot. But there were these strong characters, Enid and her friend Rebecca, and the dialogue was very good. Dan lived in Berkeley, and I talked to him about trying to write a screenplay together. I thought he was very funny and smart, and I felt this connection with him -- which is very unusual for me. I felt it with Crumb, Charles Bukowski and with Dan. And for about a year and a half we read the comic and took from it, and added, until we had a script. With a lot of help from Lianne Halfon, the producer, who was on it from the start.
''The two forms are different,'' he went on. ''There was a joke I liked a lot, and we kept it: Enid points at these two well-adjusted teenagers and says, 'She'd better watch out or she'll get AIDS when he date-rapes her.' It never gets a laugh in the film. It's too blatant. But on the page it was deadpan, like a thought, and it really worked. The comics, I think, are closer to a dream.''
Eventually they got a deal and a little over $6 million to make the movie; Ms. Halfon produced it for John Malkovich's company, Mr. Mudd, and it will be released by United Artists. For Enid, they signed Thora Birch, soon after ''American Beauty,'' in which she played Kevin Spacey's daughter; and for Rebecca they had Scarlett Johansson, who had been the teenage rider in ''The Horse Whisperer.'' Other roles were taken by Brad Renfro, Bob Balaban, Teri Garr and Illeana Douglas, with Steve Buscemi as Seymour, Enid's unexpected friend. Seymour had not figured in the original comic book, and he was Mr. Zwigoff's most notable contribution to the writing -- a lonely record collector, a loser by common estimate, who lived in circumstances that strangely resembled those of Mr. Zwigoff himself.
That's where reticence has to make its deal with the need for self-expression. Mr. Zwigoff was born in 1948 in rural Wisconsin; his grandfather was a dairy farmer. ''I think he was the only one who was Jewish,'' Mr. Zwigoff sighs. When he was 5, they moved to Chicago because his father got work -- ''some wretched job'' -- in the clothing business. He is still haunted by a childhood watching bad television or throwing a ball against a wall. His mother, he recalls, was horribly depressed. He falters even now when asked to describe that time, and sighs forlornly at any suggestion that he might make it central to his work. He has his terrors and no ego that treasures them.
Then he went to the University of Wisconsin at Madison and, he says, ''It saved my life -- a lot of pot, and beautiful girls who seemed to like me.'' He majored in psychology but more than anything enjoyed the escape from home. Not long after graduating, he moved to San Francisco, which has been his home more or less ever since.
Not that Mr. Zwigoff is a happy celebrant of the summer of love and rock 'n' roll. He had a brief interest in Chuck Berry, but as he grew older, his musical tastes shifted back in time. He is now a studious collector of 78's, from the period 1926-32. He laughs shyly at his own strictness, yet he loves the texture of the first electronic recordings, of King Oliver and Louis Armstrong, and he has an idyllic sense of that America where work, play and art were in harmony. He knows how eccentric it seems, like the house in Bernal Heights that feels less lived in than a museum for his various collections (not just records, but posters and decorative art) as well as the sanctuary for his passionate obscurity -- sitting in the dark. Even now, he stays in touch with a man in England, over 80, who is the only person he knows who services and repairs the proper stylus for the old records. And he worries that this man cannot last forever.
In the comic book, the term ''Ghost World'' was originally a graffito seen by Mr. Clowes in Chicago. It struck him then as a mysterious and poetic guide to the inner life of a city. But for Mr. Zwigoff, it's a more concrete and critical warning, a place where oddity and variance have been smothered in heartless uniformity and chronic calculation. It's also, I think, a description of a world where it is so hard for most of us to regain or vindicate that childish illusion called ''home.''
Mr. Zwigoff and his wife have no children, and he was alarmed at first about finding a way to communicate with his young actors. But in the event, he says, it was no problem. The one thing he enjoyed was the production, the crowded 36-day shoot. For the rest -- the writing, the editing, the pitching and the promotion -- it's an ordeal, he says. That may be why ''Ghost World'' is so intriguingly recessive in style, not flat but deceptively deadpan, dreamily dry. Indeed, it's as close as this middle-aged outcast can get to the flaming blues of a Louis Armstrong. Terry Zwigoff is not likely to do a lot of pictures. But that makes it all the more important to cherish those that do pass his rueful, unblinking eye.
The day of his interview, he was wondering how -- or whether -- his movie was going to be advertised. It may not get the ''Tomb Raider'' push, but sometimes, if the sign says ''Go Away,'' smart people feel urged on.
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I am fascinated with how Terry Zwigoff ’s “ Ghost World ” has grown on me since I watched it for the first time around 15 years ago. At that time, I was a socially awkward graduate student who had been mostly happy and content with being surrounded by books and movies instead of people. I was mildly amused by the film's dry sense of offbeat humor and observations of its lonely adolescent heroine’s angst from a safe distance. When I revisited "Ghost World" this year, I recognized some of that loneliness even though I’m now much older than the protagonist and her best friend.
For many adolescents, high school graduation is something to celebrate with joy and excitement before moving on to whatever will come next for them. But that is not the case for Enid ( Thora Birch ) and her best friend Rebecca ( Scarlett Johansson ). For both teenage girls, their high school graduation is another boring chapter of their suburban life in California. Although they are eager to get out of high school, Enid and Rebecca do not have much planned for the next chapter of their life. Sure, they promised themselves that they would get a job and live together after graduation, but neither has ever thought beyond that. They observe their plain and dull surrounding environment with ironic detachment and a bit of naughtiness. One of their usual entertainments comes from a dorky lad named Josh ( Brad Renfro ), and this poor guy always becomes a schmuck to Enid and Rebecca to tease whenever they drop by the local convenient store he works at.
One day, another opportunity for naughty fun comes when they spot a rather pathetic personal ad in a local newspaper. They decide to do a mean prank, which is how they encounter Seymour ( Steve Buscemi ). Right from when he enters a local restaurant where they are waiting for his appearance, this guy exudes that unmistakable aura of misery and loneliness. But Enid unexpectedly becomes quite interested in him, unlike her best friend, who disregards Seymour as another loser to watch from a distance.
We can easily discern why Enid is so fascinated with Seymour. After all, as a girl of specific cultural taste with her cynical sense of humor, she often feels alienated even when she hangs around with her best friend. We gradually gather that, despite their long friendship, Rebecca has stuck around Enid as a mere fellow outsider even though they do not share much between them besides their annoyance and frustration with their surrounding environment. Furthermore, Rebecca is ready to move forward, and we naturally sense more of the growing gap between her and Enid, who still fails to get stably employed, unlike Rebecca.
In Seymour, Enid finds someone who can be a better alternative for friendship because he is much lonelier than she is in many aspects. Whenever he is not working as an assistant manager in a local fast-food restaurant chain, he usually occupies himself with a vast collection of old LP records and other stuff in his residence. There is an amusing scene where Enid and Rebecca are at a loss while attending Seymour’s small private party full of his fellow LP record collectors.
Because Seymour has not had much luck or success in romance, Enid impulsively decides to help her new friend. To their little surprise, that leads to a fairly successful dating for Seymour. Needless to say, both Enid and Seymour subsequently find themselves in a tricky emotional circumstance later in the story. What eventually occurs between them is not exactly surprising to us. Still, the movie never lets their complex relationship be defined by mere attraction, and we come to empathize more with the aching need and confusion inside them.
“Ghost World” was Zwigoff’s first feature film after his two documentary films “ Louie Bluie ” (1985) and “ Crumb ” (1994), which is the vivid and fascinating presentation of the life, personality, and career of legendary American cartoonist R. Crumb. As a filmmaker who did not hesitate to delve into his old friend Crumb’s demons while also struggling a lot with his own—he told Roger Ebert that he was so agonized by his back pain during that time that he slept with a gun under his pillow for killing himself at any point—Zwigoff was surely the right director for the dark wit and melancholic sensibility of “Ghost World.” While many of the characters are not very likable, to say the least, their palpable personalities linger a lot more than expected. Even Enid’s hopelessly boring father (played by Bob Balaban ) leaves a bit of an impression on us despite his sheer suburban banality.
The main performers of the film are pitch-perfect in their respective roles. As the film's center, Thora Birch effortlessly embodies the angst and loneliness churning behind her character’s defiantly sardonic attitude, and her co-star Scarlett Johansson dutifully stands by. While the late Brad Renfro is solid as a lad a bit too slow for Enid and Rebecca, Illeana Douglas is hilarious as Enid’s summer art class teacher who unwisely puts the freedom of artistic expression above political correctness when Enid presents one of Seymour’s old stuffs which is quite controversial to say the least. Bob Balaban, Teri Garr , Dave Sheridan , Pat Healy , and David Cross are also enjoyable in their small but colorful supporting parts.
The film's best performance comes from Steve Buscemi, who should have been Oscar-nominated at that time. (He received several major critics awards, including a Golden Globe nomination at least). While he can be a smart, ruthless gangster, as shown in the series “Boardwalk Empire,” this ever-dependable character actor is born to play losers and loners because of his naturally weary presence and how he is alternatively funny and poignant. Buscemi and Birch click with precise low-key comic timing whenever they are on the screen together, and you will not believe that he wanted to shed his character as soon as possible whenever the shooting was over.
“Ghost World” can be an acquired taste, but is still worthwhile for its excellent handling of story, mood, and character. I will not go into details on the finale. Still, I can tell you that I appreciate the sublime poetic quality of a brief but essential epiphany for Enid and how that beautifully leads to the tentative hopefulness of the following epilogue. Regardless of how her last shot in the film can be interpreted, you may sense that things might get better for her and Seymour. Despite their cynicism, you will care about what may be next for their lives, which is surely an achievement.
Seongyong Cho writes extensively about film on his site, Seongyong's Private Place .
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Ghost World (film)
Ghost World is a 2001 comedy-drama film about two teenage friends who are social outsiders confronted with the prospect of adulthood and the uncertain future of their friendship.
- 4 External links
Dialogue [ edit ]
Taglines [ edit ].
- Accentuate the negative.
- They're high school graduates, and the world's got hell to pay!
Cast [ edit ]
- Thora Birch – Enid
- Scarlett Johansson – Rebecca
- Brad Renfro – Josh
- Illeana Douglas – Roberta Allsworth
- Steve Buscemi – Seymour
External links [ edit ]
- Official website
- Ghost World quotes at the Internet Movie Database
- American films
- Black comedy films
- British films
- Comic book films
- Coming-of-age films
- German films
- Independent films
- Teen comedy-drama films
- Cast & crew
Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire
When the discovery of an ancient artifact unleashes an evil force, Ghostbusters new and old must join forces to protect their home and save the world from a second ice age. When the discovery of an ancient artifact unleashes an evil force, Ghostbusters new and old must join forces to protect their home and save the world from a second ice age. When the discovery of an ancient artifact unleashes an evil force, Ghostbusters new and old must join forces to protect their home and save the world from a second ice age.
- Jason Reitman
- Ivan Reitman
- Carrie Coon
- Mckenna Grace
- Annie Potts
- 1 Critic review
- Callie Spengler
- Phoebe Spengler
- Janine Melnitz
- Gary Grooberson
- Peter Venkman
- Trevor Spengler
- Winston Zeddemore
- Walter Peck
- Taxi Driver
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- Production, box office & more at IMDbPro
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- Trivia The working title for this film was "Firehouse" after the Ghostbusters' firehouse headquarters.
- Connections Follows Ghostbusters (1984)
- When will Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire be released? Powered by Alexa
- March 22, 2024 (United States)
- United States
- London, England, UK
- Columbia Pictures
- BRON Studios
- See more company credits at IMDbPro
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