Ghost World (2001)

“I used to think about one day, just not telling anyone, and going off to some random place. And I’d just… disappear. And they’d never see me again. Did you ever think about stuff like that?”

Ghost World Criterion Cover

Enid (Thora Birch) and Rebecca (Scarlett Johansson) have spent their entire high school careers as social outcasts who find joy in mercilessly ridiculing those around them, but as they graduate, a somberness begins to settle in as their peers all bravely move on into the uncertain future and they stay behind in their small town, where their only plans are to simply get a job over the summer and move in together.

Rebecca does her part, finds a job as a barista for a coffee shop and spends her time actively searching for apartments for her and Enid, but Enid drags her feet instead, spending her time bothering Josh, a boy her and Rebecca both mutually like, and sketching citizens of the town in their everyday lives. There is a visible rift forming between Enid and Rebecca which is made worse by Enid’s selfishness and aloofness. As Rebecca begins to form her own identity apart from Enid, Enid busy’s herself with an art class she is forced to take and Seymour (Steve Buscemi), an older man she contacted as a prank through a personal ad he placed in the local paper. She soon feels guilty and makes it her mission to find him a date.

But as the summer progresses, things start spiraling out of control. Seeing Enid is uninterested in moving forward with their plan, Rebecca severs their relationship, Seymour finds the woman he was searching for in his personal ad, strikes up a relationship with her, and ignores Enid, and Enid losses a scholarship to an art school when a painting she turns in is deemed so offensive, her art teacher is literally forced to fail her. Enid is caught in the weird purgatory between high school and adult life, afraid to choose a path, fearing she will make the wrong choice. How do you move forward in life without losing your identity?

Ghost World is directed by Terry Zwigoff, written by Terry Zwigoff and Daniel Clowes, and is based off the comic books created by Daniel Clowes. The characters that populate the world in the background of the action are as close to “art imitating life” as you can get. There aren’t beautiful faces everywhere, just everyday odd people doing mundane things and, most importantly, set in their ways. This is where the film shines. There is no forced “what am I doing with my life” moment; whatever “teenage angst” we experience comes up naturally and as awkwardly as teenagers are. While Rebecca slides into adult life with ease, Enid fights it with every ounce of her soul, losing a job at a movie theatre her first day on the job and rejecting a job offer from her fathers girlfriend; she slowly finds herself faced with either succumbing to the same mundanity or running away until she finds what she is looking for, whatever it is. Thora Birch is able to expose a bit of warmth and vulnerability to an otherwise selfish, rebellious, cold, and callous Enid. Scarlett Johansson’s Rebecca is soft spoken and sweet, but her frustrations are floating on the surface for all to see. Steve Buscemi finds himself in a strange roll, as a normal guy who, in any other setting, would most likely be a serial killer, but he’s intelligent enough to know that his hobbies are ridiculous and he’s only filling his life with things because he can’t find love.

Ghost World did not shatter any box office records upon its initial release but did receive critical acclaim; it was and even nominated for an Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay among several others. Though the films comedy is deadpan and dark, there isn’t a moment where it loses its freshness. It will transport you back to the awkward phase in your life when you were faced with the metaphorical fork in the road and forced to pick one. The film is a great watch and #872 on the Criterion Collection.

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