Ghost World (2001) Directed by Terry Zwigoff. With Thora Birch, Scarlett Johansson, Steve Buscemi, Brad Renfro, Illeana Douglas and Bob Balaban.
Based on a graphic novel of the same name by Daniel Clowes, Ghost World tells the story of two young high-school graduates finding their place in a world where everyone seems to be an outcast. Directed by Terry Zwigoff and starring Thora Birch and Scarlett Johansson, the film is a tribute to individualism. It is saying that there is no standard for being cool -and that the only real cool that exists, is to be who you are. If nothing else, it warrants a pat on the back for good intentions.
While it might be a touch too slight to register as anything wholly significant, it is nevertheless held up by the nature of its intentions. After her role in American Beauty, it isn’t hard to see why Thora Birch was cast as Enid – as the character often feels like an extension of that role; underlying familial sadness, warring with the need to be loved and accepted – but all the while carrying the inert awkwardness of teen repression. Birch and Johnasson go about judging everyone in sight, making decisions about who people are based on thier image and interests. By way of a cruel practical joke, it isn’t long before that perspective is tested.
Strictly a character piece, the message about ‘who we are‘ courses through the narrative. Conformity in society can often lead to the muting of originality; which the film broadly addresses throughout. The characters are even and well written, without resorting to cheap gags to impress. Steve Buscemi gains our favour as a lonely man, somehow lost in the spin-cycle of life – his saving grace being his obsession of collecting vinyl records. The blossoming of an unlikely relationship is always a pleasant sight. Our opposites often feed our desire to know parts of ourselves we had either forgotten, or that we didn’t realise existed in the first place. Through the unlikely pairing of Birch and Buscemi, the film strives to make that point.
With a solid cast featuring a sprightly Illeana Douglas, the film is never less than mildly engaging. It feels a little loose, at times, and it verges on labouring its point, but ultimately gets by on its dry-witted charm. The poster tagline for American Beauty was “look closer“. While it isn’t competing in the same league, Ghost World encourages us to do exactly the same thing. 3/5