Neil Young’s Film Lounge – Ghost World

Published on: March 23rd, 2004

GHOST WORLD

7/10

USA 2001
director : Terry Zwigoff
script : Zwigoff, Daniel Clowes (based on comic book by Clowes)
producers include : John Malkovich
cinematography : Affonso Beato
editing : Carole Kravetz
music : David Kitay
lead actors : Thora Birch, Steve Buscemi, Scarlett Johansson, Brad Renfro
111 minutes

Ghost World desperately wants to be a cult movie: it has trendy, off-beat stars playing trendy, off-beat characters; it’s based on a painfully hip underground comic-book; director Zwigoff won the Documentary Oscar for Crumb a few years back; the production design is a kitschy riot of colours, hairstyles, costumes, props; the supporting cast is a gallery of hilarious grotesques … But aren’t hip, cult movies just a little bit, er, nineties? And isn’t this package just a little over-calculated to appeal to the indie, arthouse market? You shouldn’t need to be told, for instance, that the title is never explained or even mentioned.

Thora Birch goes kinky....There isn’t much of a plot, more a sequence of situations involving teenage best-pals Enid (Birch) and Rebecca (Johansson), recent graduates from high school reluctant to embark on the rat race of college courses and careerism. They drift from McJob to McJob, appalled at the excesses of modern American consumerist culture, but their cooler-than-thou pose – and their friendship – comes under strain when Enid befriends geeky fortysomething Seymour (Buscemi). He’s a record collector whose obsessions have a predictably negative impact on his love life and, to Rebecca’s bemusement, Enid sets out to improve Seymour’s lot, with unexpected success …

Ghost World may not be the masterpiece acclaimed by some US critics, but it’s easy to be seduced by its confident panache – right from the 60s-Bollywood clip that opens proceedings with an surreally infectious bang. As the title implies, we’re not quite in reality, but neither are we in the usual ‘film world’ – instead, we’re transported into Enid’s private universe. If the movie’s attitudes and poses are essentially adolescent and artifical, well, that’s because they’re Enid’s – a nice, handy get-out for Zwigoff and Clowes.

It’s always refreshing, however, to see corporate America satirised , as when Enid gets a job in a soulless multiplex and outrages her boss by deviating from the ‘script’ employees are supposed to follow: “It’s not optional!” rages the youthful corporate cog. Even better is Enid and Seymour’s abortive visit to a music bar to see a venerable BB King-style guitarist who’s roundly ignored by the boorish crowd (“those creatures!” splutters Seymour) impatient for dreadful bunch of headlining rockers called ‘BluesHammer.’
But it’s downhill from here, as the movie bogs down into a disappointingly conventional subplot about Enid winning an art-school scholarship – her dopey-hippy teacher (Douglas) falls the wrong side of caricature. The ending, typically, is rather too neatly ambivalent for its own good, but stick around for the end of the credits – it isn’t often you see a Buscemi character kick somebody up into the air.

20th August, 2001
(seen Aug-16-01, on video – Edinburgh Film Festival)

by Neil Young