Directed by Terry Zwigoff
Starring Thora Birch, Scarlett Johansson, Steve Buscemi
Ghost World, which originally sprung to life in the pages of Daniel Clowes’ comic Eightball, tells the story of two life-long friends in the summer following high school graduation. The tale of Enid (played by Thora Birch) and her best friend Rebecca (Scarlett Johansson) always felt like much more than merely a comic. The writing was better and more involving than most novels, and was a natural for the cinema. The problem was that much departure from Clowes’ story would result in a very ordinary teen drama, and Ghost World — much like its protagonist, Enid — is far from ordinary. Ghost World‘s closest cousin would be Rushmore. From the first reports of a movie being made, I felt that the movie would not only be made or broken by its script (which was written by Clowes and director Terry Zwigoff, best known for the documentary Crumb), but the key would be in the actress playing the lead. Drew Barrymore apparently had interest in the project at one time, and Christina Ricci seemed like a possibility, but after seeing Thora Birch, the role could never belong to another. She’s on screen for nearly every scene, and you cannot take your eyes off of her. And her character doesn’t change, she evolves. You never feel Birch or the script flip a switch and have her different. It’s a gradual and emotional process as the audience grows up with Enid.
Thora Birch as Enid is a classic underachiever. She’s a talented artist who flunked high school art, a smart girl who doesn’t want to go to college, and a beautiful girl who can’t or won’t get a date. Enid and her best friend Rebecca spend their post-graduation days planning to move into their own apartment, pulling pranks, and going on adventures. This all changes when they accidentally meet Seymour, played nicely by Steve Buscemi. Seymour is middle-aged 78-RPM record coll ector who is basically an older version of Enid. As Enid and Seymour’s relationship grows (and without giving away too much of the plot), Enid and Rebecca’s relationship is strained. The one thing to know is that Ghost World does not follow the typical Hollywood clichés.
The script follows the source material pretty closely. Some episodes are changed, simplified, added, or omitted, but it feels like Ghost World should feel, and that is far more important than each episode from the comics coming to life. Some things, like Seymour and Enid’s visit to the porno shop and Enid and Rebecca’s sojourns to the diner, are intact. The “smile and a ribbon in my hair” episode is truncated, but remains effective. Also, there are some touches from other Clowes work, like “Art School Confidential,” and many of Enid’s drawings are strangely similar to Clowes’ work. The film feels real, the characters never seem to be aware of playing to the camera. In other hands, the characters which could be wildly over the top or too “normal,” but Zwigoff manages to produce a two hour film about people on the fringes that doesn’t have a moment when it doesn’t feel absolutely genuine. From the haircuts, to the clothes, to the lingo and the music, everything is dead on. Hopefully, Ghost World will not be passed over as a “comic book movie” at Oscar time, as it is one of the best movies I’ve seen in quite some time, and Thora Birch carries the movie with one of the best performances in one of the best written roles for a woman in recent memory.