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'Ghost World'

American banality: Weird souls rule in 'Ghost World,' a comic come to life

Friday, August 31, 2001

By Bob Hoover, Post-Gazette Book Editor

The title is perhaps the best clue to this intelligent, quietly disturbing film inspired by the comic book of the same name by Daniel Clowes.

 
    'Ghost World'

RATING: R for strong language and sexual content.

STARRING: Thora Birch, Steve Buscemi, Scarlett Johansson.

DIRECTOR: Terry Zwigoff

CRITIC'S CALL:

 
 

Shot in the garish colors of the too-bright sunshine of Southern California, "Ghost World's" landscape is full of phantoms fleeing the tacky, plastic sterility of our contemporary culture.

And, while its heroes are two 18-year-old girls, these are not the goofy, daffy, horny residents of "American Pie" I or II, but sensitive, yet "totally" weird souls.

Thora Birch, who was alienated enough in "American Beauty," seems completely shut off from her surroundings as Enid. With an endless supply of geeky glasses and retro outfits, she's repelled by virtually everybody and everything, including her ineffectual, pathetic father (Bob Balaban).

Her only friend is Rebecca (Scarlett Johansson), a trifle more conventional than Enid, but out of the mainstream enough to join Enid in rejecting the expected move to college.

After high school graduation, the girls hang out in crummy diners and coffeehouses, with vague plans to get jobs and share an apartment. In the meantime, they're content to insult and tease former classmates including the rather gentle Josh (Brad Renfro) who works in a convenience store from hell.

Adults drift into their lives, including Seymour (Steve Buscemi) and Roberta (Illeana Douglas). Somehow, but in hilarious fashion, Enid manages to mess up their lives and do herself no favors in the process.

Buscemi is appealing, funny and achingly sad as the dork Seymour, a collector of 78 rpm records and other ancient memorabilia.

Douglas does a devastating turn as a "serious" art teacher who hasn't a clue about real art, including the work of the surprisingly talented Enid. Her treatment of the girl is nothing short of criminal.

Director Terry Zwigoff, who made the excellent documentary, "Crumb," is not as skilled with a drama, but his original vision of an ugly and impersonal culture gives "Ghost World" its power to evoke the loneliness of the urban milieu.

Clowes collaborated on the screenplay, and while some of the dialogue is stilted, much of rings true in its empty banality.

The pair is backed by a terrific soundtrack and talented costuming and set design.

The moral of this little tale is that your bus will come along if you wait long -- or screw up enough. It's not much, but it's still hope.

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