Ghost World (2001) Film Review by Gareth Rhodes

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




About garethrhodes

Full-time lover of all things creative.
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14 Responses to Ghost World (2001) Film Review by Gareth Rhodes

  1. filmfunkel says:

    Nice. I do remember Buscemi being pretty sympathetic. Have to look that up again.

  2. Dude the cleaner says:

    Didn’t see that one. Thanks for the review. I will look it up.

  3. I have a real soft spot for this movie. Love to see actors playing against type and Buscemi is so charming here. Great review.

  4. thefilmchurn says:

    Love Steve Buscemi as an actor and would probably go out of my way to see most of his stuff. But, the film never really gripped me, not that it was really intended to be a gripping movie. You put it perfectly in saying “the film is never less than mildly engaging”. That’s pretty much exactly how I felt about it. Out of curiosity, how do you watch all of your films? Stream? DVD? Just wondering!

    • garethrhodes says:

      Thank you for stopping by. Yes, it’s definitely slight, although like you say, it’s never aiming for the same dramatic heights as say, American Beauty. Buscemi really lifts this.

      At the moment, I’m using a combination of means. I’m a UK Netflix subscriber and I buy DVD’s/Blu’s/VHS, old and new. I’m an unapologetic film fanatic.

      • thefilmchurn says:

        I’d believe you when you say that. Your review output probably matches that of Empire! Great stuff. I have Netflix myself but have built up a rather respectable DVD collection over the years. I just figured that we may have a lot of the same films, going by your reviews. Keep it up!

      • garethrhodes says:

        Thank you. Yes, I get through a lot of stuff. I’m continually fascinated by cinema and the way that it continues to evolve. I’ve always got a viewing list on the go yet even with my huge appetite I struggle to keep up with the amount of great stuff coming out. These are great times. It’s really good to hear from you, glad to meet someone with similar tastes.

  5. My opinions of some of the films you have reviewed haven’t aligned (I think the prod design of this film is great and made me want to read the graphic novel) but you always make a good case for your argument in your reviews

    • garethrhodes says:

      Well, it’s great to have your input. Each film hits us all differently, and I love to read about all the varying reactions. I’d be very interested to read the graphic novel too. Thank you for stopping by my page and taking the time to share your views. It’s greatly appreciated.

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