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Movie Reviews

Ghost World




Released: 2001

Directed By: Terry Zwigoff

Starring: Steve Buscemi, Scarlett Johansson

Certificate: 15


Reviewed By: Luke Cowdell

Now Ghost World is not going to be the easiest film to review. The film is quite complex, it is set in 2001 and half the time you would be forgiven for thinking the film was set in the 1950’s. Life seems to be the perfect vision of conservative mid-America. People look all straight-laced and robotic a definite vision of hyper-reality is created. At times we do see glimpses of the present, for example, in one scene Enid (Thora Birch) and Rebecca (Scarlett Johansson) are sitting in an ‘authentic 1950’s’ dinner whilst gangster rap and pop hits blast through the jukebox.

“So, who could forget this great hit from the fifties, huh?”


The narrative focuses on main characters Enid (Birch) and Rebecca (Johansson). The film picks up on the last day of high school at their graduation. It follows both characters during their last summer of freedom before the real world. In their case it is either go to college get a job. Amongst the boredom of their dead end town the girls decide to play a prank on an unassuming lonely heart. Their prank works a little too well, Enid feels guilty about tricking this unassuming middle aged geeky man into thinking he has found his dream woman. This man Seymour (Steve Buscemi) is retired; he worked for years in an office and now spends his spare time collecting old records.

The narrative of the film tries to portray the labours of growing up, becoming an adult and coming to terms with these new responsibilities. I remember when I first watched this film I was in a similar situation myself. It was literally get a shitty job or go to college. Still though, years on the film still holds relevance. At the end of the day we have all got to grow up, and it’s not easy, the film shows the strains that this time of life can have on individuals.  Enid still feels like she is finding her identity, as an audience we get the impression that she is not ready for the ‘real world’, she is not yet equipped with the tools to deal with the challenges that life is throwing her way. Enid will dye her hair, change her clothes and try to find her place, find her own identity but when it comes down to it this just polarises her immaturity.  At one point Enid makes an ironic statement that sums up her whole identity within the film, “I’m tired of all these extroverted pseudo-bohemian losers.”. Enid’s best friend Rebecca on the other hand is more focused, she decides to go get herself a job. She is working towards something; Rebecca is a lot more focused than her friend. She wants to get her own place, she almost seems like she is ready to grow up. This inevitably puts strain on their friendship.

The film takes a look at loneliness in its different forms. Enid feels out of place socially with the inability to change her circumstances. Seymour has been unlucky in life, he has had little or no serious relationships with the opposite sex and takes a very cynical look at life. Enid feels she shares something in common with Seymour hence the weird friendship that develops. The films narrative does not shy away from the awkwardness of everyday life. The plot develops in a small suburban town in America where nothing happens. There is nothing to luck forward to. Get a job, work, watch TV and die. The film does not shy away from this dull cynicism of everyday life. Ghost World takes measured swipes at blue collar workers but at the same time it also confronts the pressures that growing up can bestow upon individuals.

The film was adapted from Daniel Clowes’ comic book series also called Ghost World. I think this influenced some of the character and costume choices used within this film. In the comic book, weirdos look weird and people are over exaggerated, their flaws are focused on and used for maximum effect. Terry Zwigoff the director has managed to create a masterpiece that can easily co-exist alongside the original comic book series. This adaptation could have went down a completely different road but from reading both the comics and watching the film the similarities are defiantly apparent.

Finally the acting is fantastic. Thora Birch really seems to tap into her inner Enid, she seems like the original emo, an outsider, kinda happy with that label, looking for nothing but the next moment to belittle someone or make the next snarky remark. Scarlett Johansson as Rebecca acts so dead-pan and emotionless at times you want to shake her, but if you think about it, teens like that exist, some feel alienated and out of place in society and both girls manage to encapsulate this feeling. The final stand out performance is from Steve Buscemi he is cast brilliantly as Seymour; a geeky loner, perhaps tinged with anger problems and health problems to boot. Life doesn’t seem to be going anywhere, that is until Seymour meets Enid.

Fan of ‘Scarlett Johansson’? MM reviews for ‘Avengers Assemble’ and ‘Lost In Translation’


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