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Monday, 2 December 2002

Ghost World

Hollywood might be pretty good at churning out movies aimed at teenagers, but when it comes to movies actually about real teens their output falls a little short. It's ironic then that the two movies that've done the best job of capturing how it feels to be a teen in 2002 are based on comic books: Spiderman and now Ghost World, based on the serial in writer / artist Dan Clowes' 'Eightball' comic. The original story was a surprisingly moving look at two teenage girls drifting through life after high school, torn between nostalgia for a childhood they've barely left behind and a future too full of possibilities to reject outright; perhaps the most impressive thing about the film version (which was co-written by Clowes, along with director Terry Zwigoff) is how well it manages to retain the comic's quirky tone. Enid (Thora Birch) and Rebecca (Scarlett Johansson) have just left high school behind them, and as a duo prone to making smart-arse comments about all and sundry, their future in an America made up of bland layered upon bland doesn't look good. Their aimless wanderings eventually takes them to a lawn sale where uber-geek record collector Seymour (Steve Buscemi) is peddling his wares. For Rebecca, the slightly more mainstream / socially adjusted of the two girls, he's just a geek; Enid sees something more to him, and as she gets to know him better she senses something of a kindred spirit beneath all those layers of obscure music knowledge. For a film where not a whole lot happens, this manages to shift from very funny comedy (Enid and Rebecca's commentary on everything around them is classic stuff) to much more emotional territory without hitting a single bad note. That's thanks to a script that values the characters over any notion of a 'plot' and a trio of excellent performances from Birch, Buscemi, and Johansson. They're all playing characters that feel more like actual people than the usual types that populate most American films, and while all three actors really shine here, it's Birch who's makes the most of her sharp-witted role. Directing his first feature film (he previously directed the documentary Crumb), Zwigoff gets out of the way and lets his bleak panorama of strip malls and fast food joints make his point for him. It's a coming-of-age drama where no-one really comes of age, and a comedy that's too thoughtful for cheap laughs; Ghost World should not be missed.

Anthony Morris

(this review appeared in Forte#275)


Through-out the century-long history of movies, a whole lot of people from a whole lot of professions have become good actors, so on the surface there's no reason why Mariah Carey can't do the same. Oh wait, yes there is: SHE CAN'T ACT. This wouldn't be a problem - after all, she pays the bills with her voice - only someone somewhere figured it'd be a really good idea to put her in a movie, and instead of the more traditional methods used to hide a lead actresses lack of talent (skilful editing, dubbing, nudity, etc), they went with the rarely used technique of dragging the rest of the movie down to her low, low standard. The good news is, this takes its time building up to its eventual laughable level of ineptitude: young Billie Frank (Carey) had a drunken arsonist mother who put her in an orphanage where she met her two lifelong friend, memorably described by one character as Roach Bag and Fat Ass. Growing up to be slutty dancers at a New York nightclub circa 1983 - and in case you ever forget that this is taking place in New York, almost every scene begins with an aerial shot of the city - they get a gig as backing singers for a no-talent bimbo and her evil pimp manager. Rescued from this fate by DJ / producer / leather pants wearer Duce (Max Beesley), Billie goes on to barely mentioned fame and fortune while Duce loses it big time, starts going to parties topless, and cruelly prevents Billie from dressing as slutty as she wants to. Oh, and Billie may be some kind of robot, as in most scenes she has a streak of metallic paint smeared on her skin. Every time Billie and Duce had a conversation, the entire audience at the screening I saw started laughing at the inept dialogue and tragic performances: if you want proof that tragedy can bring people together, then check Glitter out.

Anthony Morris

(this review appeared in Forte#259)