Sunday, 15 December 2013

Ghost World (2001) - ★★★★

Director: Terry Zwigoff
Writers: Daniel Clowes (Comic Book), Terry Zwigoff
Stars: Thora Birch, Scarlett Johansson, Steve Buscemi, Brad Renfro, Illeana Douglas, Bob Balaban, Stacey Travis

I have a lot of mixed feelings about Ghost World. Nominated for an Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay, it boasts some pretty wicked dialogue and a distinct late-1990s flare. The performances are fantastic, the cinematography is effective, and the score by David Kitay accompanies the scenes beautifully. I found it so hard to like the protagonist, who at first is one of the snobbiest bitches I've ever seen on film. As the story and characters start developing, everything becomes so much more entertaining and interesting. An unorthodox friendship, and a gripping look at the human condition of two major characters, made me enjoy Ghost World immensely. It's a film with edge, a spark that you just don't see in cinema anymore. I can't put my finger on it, but the whole experience was just one big nostalgia trip. I loved it.

Ghost World is about the marvellous misadventures of Enid (Thora Birch) and Rebecca (Scarlett Johansson), two opinionated, bitchy best friends who lament 99% of the population and get up to all sorts of mischief. When one of their pranks leads Enid to feel guilty, she helps the victim of the prank, Seymour (Steve Buscemi), look for a nice girl to date. It’s an entertaining, unpredictable story that feels so late-1990s punk-rock.

It took me ages to realise that Enid is actually played by Thora Birch, the daughter from American Beauty!
Our main character isn’t cute, charming, tolerant, or the least bit nice. She shows such contempt for people in general, through putting others down and not giving a shit about their feelings. In many ways, she reminds of me of the cartoon character Daria, which was a successful show on MTV in the late 90s. While Daria would show her contempt for society through witty quips, monotone expression, and an “I couldn’t care less” attitude, at least she wasn’t a bad person. Enid says some truly hurtful things on purpose, which is something I just don’t find amusing. In my opinion, her attitude and personality makes her just as bad, if not worse than those she so often abuses.

Rebecca looks like the younger, bitchier version of Scarlett Johansson from 'Lost in Translation.'
Her friend Rebecca is almost as condescending. She’s clearly the follower of the two, reacting to her friend’s antics, rather than coming up with the shenanigan’s herself. Though not as rude or mean as Enid, she’s still a very unlikable person due to the way she goes along with the abusive and immature activities. For example, they saw an ad in a newspaper, placed by a man looking for a woman he fell in love with at first sight. They thought it would be a laugh to call him up, and leave a message on his machine arranging to meet him at a restaurant. I don’t know about you, but I don’t find that sort of thing funny at all. The lack of empathy and consideration from these two girls is more depressing than entertaining.

Josh on the other hand, is my favourite character. When they told him about their prank-date, he said in a chastising manner, “When you think about it, that’s a pretty fucked up thing to do to someone.”  I had finally found a character that wasn’t an asshole, which was a breath of fresh-air. When the two main characters are miserable bitches, it’s nice to hear a voice of reason.

After Enid is insulted and made fun of by a few jerks in a comic book store, she finally shows some human qualities about her. She’s clearly self-conscious about her image, her feelings get hurt by nasty comments, and most importantly, she’s different when she’s on her own to reflect. This incident caused her to dye her hair back to black, where she listened to a country music vinyl record. At this moment, you can see that everything she does is just a front. It was great to see her just stand there, enjoying the music, just waking up to reality.

This is Thora Birch's greatest performance. She showed a remarkable sensitive side to the character, earning her a Golden Globe nomination!
One of Steve Buscemi's best performances.
Steve Buscemi is astounding in his role as Seymour. He’s such a broken down man, who dreams of love and connecting with people, yet he feels there no hope in achieving that. The highlight of the film is the early development of his relationship with Enid. He brings out her kinder, truer self, whilst she adds a spark of intrigue to his life. It’s a wonderful pair, for they seem like opposites, but they have a truly strong bond. One of my favourite scenes was when she praised him for having a cool vinyl record room, saying that he’s “Lucky.” His response was something I think rings true to many people.“You think it’s healthy to obsessively collect things? You can’t connect with people so you fill your life with stuff.” It’s a simple statement, but one that packs a powerful punch. He clearly values a loving relationship over his hobby, but has had no luck in finding one. He’s all alone, with nothing but LP’s to keep him company. That’s why his relationship with Enid is such an interesting and entertaining story to follow.

One of my favourite aspects of the film is Enid’s “remedial art class for fuck-ups and retards.” She had to sit in class and take criticism for making beautiful cartoon drawings, simply because they don’t suit the teacher’s definition of ‘art.’ The teacher is into the surreal and abstract, where things don’t really make sense, but they have a message behind it… which makes it art. I loved how these sequences showed the stupidity of the teacher promoting one form of art as exquisite, whilst panning the other as a lesser form of art. For example, Enid made a beautiful picture of Don Knotts, whilst another artsy girl glued a tampon to a teacup. One came from the heart, whilst the other had a message of femininity behind it. Apparently, the teacup is the higher form of art. I had an art teacher like this in the 9th grade, which made expressing myself very difficult (I ended up leaving the class). Even though Ghost World is a bit too obvious in delivering the message, I’m just glad that they highlighted the silliness within the subject.

To wind up this review, let me just say that Thora Birch gave a truly outstanding performance. Her subtle displays of true human emotion, behind her tough exterior, were very touching. I didn't like her character, but Birch was able to project a sensitivity that is rare to find these days. You know what? This is a damn good movie. I may not agree with the personality's of a few, but I look back on Ghost World with a great big grin on my face. It's definitely worth a watch. 

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