Ghost World (2001) — Girls hit real world, real world hits back

“Accentuate the negative”

Kyle’s rating: Those first fifteen minutes or so are fantastic! And so is the comic book!

Kyle’s review: In the same weekend, I rented both Ghost World and The Princess Diaries. I would have never predicted that The Princess Diaries would be the more entertaining of the two, but that’s how the cookie crumbled. Weird, eh?

Don’t get me wrong, Ghost World had its moments, most of them hitting in those fabulous first fifteen minutes, but ultimately it falls a little flat despite a perfect cast and effective setting. The Princess Diaries, which I swear I’m not trying to review in tandem here, is predictable and more than a little bit Disney-schmaltzy (I wanted to kill that so-called best friend!) but Anne Hathaway is fantabulous (especially with trimmed eyebrows) and the story is much more fulfilling and rewatchable. I realize that with that comparison made, everyone who voted Ghost World one of the best films of 2001 is now sending hit men my glamour shots. But I gotta be me!

Ghost World deals with the distressed duo and recent high school grads Enid (Thora Birch) and Rebecca (Scarlett Johansson) as they deal with their first post-HS summer. They were close-knit semi-rebels in high school, always together, never letting anyone else get close, and planning their lives together starting with moving into their first apartment that summer. But as they each face the real world (argh! jobs! responsibilities!) with differing success, their differences slowly emerge and their friendship is put in doubt. Will they still move in together? Can one be responsible and bring home the bacon while the other is a tortured artist type with a penchant for focusing on hard luck cases? Although they both have their problems, how are both of these girls still single?

I’m not sure where all these hot, incredibly witty, yet hopelessly introverted and shy chicks that populate films like there are hiding out, but it sure isn’t my neck of the woods. If you’re like me, meaning you’re shallow and into looks while valuing personality and sense of humor, here in SoCal you have to plan Delta Force action just to separate the cool chicks from their lucky and possessive boyfriends so you can get a shot at them. I’ve known and I know girls like Enid and Rebecca who are cool and have carts full of disturbing yet intriguing baggage, yet they’re all snatched up by dudes. Movies like this are just too late! Why didn’t I watch stuff like this in junior high when I still had a shot at grabbing a really fun and artistic and witty and independent girl! Why didn’t anyone tell me love was a game of musical chairs?

Excuse me, I’m going to cry in my room while I watch The Princess Diaries for the umpteenth time!

Whoa. Seriously, though, these girls are great! The movie just doesn’t live up to them, though. Rebecca is really cool and smoky-voiced Johansson is the cat’s meow; too bad the gargantuan focus is on Enid unlike the comic book on which the film is based. The comic is all about the two girls slowly growing apart, and it is beautifully representative yet heartbreakingly depressing. The movie is more Enid and her times with sadsack Seymour (a convincing Steve Buscemi) than the Enid and Rebecca show. Dang. I want more Johansson! Though Birch is really great, don’t get me wrong.

Plenty of people love Ghost World, so keep that in mind. I would have loved it if it had stuck to the comic, but in this adapted and changed form it is ¼ great and ¾ nice try. It does tell an interesting and mostly engrossing story (I used my fast forward a few times), so if you’ve got the time and you realize this isn’t a happy childhood fairy tale, give Ghost World a spin. It certainly speaks about modern adolescence and makes you wonder if this is the new age dawning for our kids to deal with, but I don’t want kids so I’d rather watch Buckaroo Banzai or Tron instead. But hey, some “real critics” put this on those “top 10 of 2001 lists” so that must mean “something.” What do I know? Trust your judgment, kids!

Clare’s rating: If Clare were a character from a graphic novel, she’d be making crank calls with Enid and Rebecca.

Clare’s review: I’m not big on graphic novels. I appreciate them as an art form and I’ve read one or two, but generally I find comic book stores put me into more of a boredom coma than into any sort of geeked-out joy coma. However, Ghost World is one of a handful of graphic novels I’ve ripped through while salivating hungrily for more. When I found out that Terry Zwigoff, the director of Crumb (a documentary about underloved and misunderstood illustrator genius madman Robert Crumb), was going to tackle Daniel Clowes extremely witty and surrealist take on growing up a girl in modern day America, I was stoked. Even if you missed it in theaters, the at-home experience is just as rewarding.

The thing that most impressed me about Ghost World was that it was able to transition between graphic novel and movie without losing its unique voice. The novel is weird, episodic and filled with strange characters. While the movie adds whole new sections to the plot and plumps up some characters while disregarding others, the unique way that Clowes (who also co-wrote the screenplay) tells her story and shapes her characters is definitely carried well from the page to the screen. What this means of course is that if you didn’t like the graphic novel, you probably won’t like the movie and visa versa.

Thora Birch is perfectly cast as Enid, our hero of teen confusion wrapped in sarcasm bolstered by boredom and yearning for something, anything, more. All of the other characters she interacts with are pulled directly from Clowes’ book and are portrayed with sometimes shockingly dead-on accuracy.

Of special mention is Steve Buscemi’s turn as (get this) a creepy guy who’s no good with the ladies. Although he could have easily phoned in his performance (since “creepy guy” has become his middle name with casting directors) Buscemi really dials up his contribution here by making his portrayal of Seymour a whole lot more than just an amalgamation of stereotypical behaviors. I really wish he’d been nominated for an Oscar for his work here. His performance is nuanced, controlled and brilliant. God knows he acts big, crooked toothed circles around Ethan Hawke’s over-hyped ass any day of the week and twice on Sundays.

Ghost World won’t appeal to a huge audience as it’s slow pace and meandering plot will most likely rub some people the wrong way. But if you like interesting character studies, enjoy watching good acting and aren’t put off by non-traditional story arcs, this is the movie for you. Also, if nothing else, the costumes and set design in Ghost World are kick-ass amazing.

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