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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)

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