Terry Zwigoff the director of the highly acclaimed documentary “Crumb”, a film about the strange (understatement) comic book artist Robert Crumb, has gone from showing us the life of a cult artist to adapting a cult comic book, “Ghost World.” Daniel Clowes the creator of the comic co-wrote the screenplay with Terry for his first foray into the fictional narrative. Now when thinking of adapting comic books for the big screen, you always think of “Batman”, “Superman” or one of hundreds of the men-in-tights fighting crime. “Ghost World” could not be further from this. It is the very true to life story of an overly cynical teenage girl.
“Ghost World” opens with a pan past an apartment building that could be in any middle American town. We look into the windows and see the white-trash type folk that populate these towns, as they all zone out in front of the boob-tube. The music from a Bollywood production cranks up as we get closer to the room of Enid. We slide into her room and see her dancing wildly along with the Indian Musical. From the way she dresses and the items in her room we can tell she loves all things kitsch.
Winona Ryder begets Christina Ricci, now it’s Thora Birch’s turn. Very light skin, dark hair girls with knack for playing pessimistic young women. Thora played one of the most believable teen characters in memory as the daughter in “American Beauty”. Now with her charming performance as Enid in “Ghost World”, Thora has proved that she is one of the most promising young actresses working. It’s a performance that won her Best Actress at the Seattle International Film Festival.
Enid and her best friend Rebecca have just graduated from high school. Enid mostly wears clothes that look like they’re straight from the bin at the Salvation Army, nothing ever matches, and she tries to stick out as far as possible. Rebecca is the more unassuming of the two. She looks like an average teenage girl, with her blonde hair she’d be considered “cute one”. Enid seems to be annoyed with this, but acts like it’s nothing.
They live in a town that is stuck in a time warp, 80’s metal-heads roam the streets with 50’s idealist. Enid and Rebecca know that they are better than everybody else. For them the folk of this town are there to hate and ridicule. “Everyone’s too stupid!”
Through her horn-rimmed glasses Enid looks down upon the world. She mocks the citizens ruthlessly in her conversations with Rebecca and in her journal filled with great comic-like portraits. (Drawn in real life by Sophi Crumb.) While reading the personals in the town’s free weekly they come upon one sad soul and attempt to deride him further than usual. They set up a blind date with Seymour (Can a name scream dork any louder?) and watch from the other side of the restaurant as he waits patiently for his nonexistent date to arrive. A funny thing happens though. Seymour doesn’t seem upset by being stood-up and after drinking his vanilla shake leaves nonchalant. This intrigues Enid.
While roaming the neighborhood apartment hunting, Enid and Rebecca run across Seymour selling records at a yard sale. He talks enthusiastically about his 78 collection in a way only a true geek/collector can. Seymour complete indifference to being such uncool person only further appeals to Enid’s slightly warped tastes. “He’s such a clue-less dork, he’s almost cool.” Their similar distaste for the world around them attracts them towards each other and into a strange friendship. The marvelously dorky Seymour is played to perfection by Steve Buscemi. I really can’t imagine another actor in this character’s shoes.
Enid is now spending most of her time with Seymour and her pet project of trying to find him a girlfriend. Rebecca begins to feel neglected and doesn’t understand what Enid sees in him. Rebecca is growing further from Enid’s beliefs and even gets a job at a corporate coffee shop and Enid’s inability to find a job is harming their plans on moving in together. She does manage to get a job at a movie theater, but her bad attitude and brutal honesty get her fired the same day.
Her relationships with both Rebecca and Seymour falter and Enid is stuck spending some time with herself, something that she isn’t really capable of. She reflects on what she has been doing with her life and doesn’t like what she sees. She goes about mending her friendships by changing her attitude towards people, at least those close to her.
“Ghost World” is filled wall to wall with great dialogue. Dialogue that any pessimist or people hater will eat up. Every performance in the film is perfect, from the leads to the smaller characters. Bob Balaban is wonderful in a very small role as Enid’s sheepish father. Illeana Douglas is hilarious as Enid’s summer school, New Age/activist, art teacher. Deadpan humor abounds in a high school comedy that is a “film”, not a movie.