Ghost World (2001), by Terry Zwigoff, based on the underground comix of Daniel Clowes, mainly has to do with Enid (Thora Birch), a reserved, near-misanthropic adolescent just out of high school and, like her friend Rebecca (Scarlett Johansson), a misfit.
Both girls decline to go to college but whereas Rebecca gets a lasting job, Enid does not. She blows it with her employers, and also innocently spoils her chance to enroll in an art school. After playing a cruel joke on a nerdy man called Seymour (Steve Buscemi), also a misfit, Enid sympathetically befriends him and tries to find him a girlfriend. By and by she beds him, but Seymour’s not the man for her. Enid is increasingly dissatisfied, still friends with Rebecca in spite of a probable shriveling of their relationship in the future. The misfit is isolated–and possibly just as “clueless” as at first she believes Seymour to be.
The movie caustically satirizes sentimental blather and pretentious attitudes toward art, both of which Enid and Rebecca hate. Enid’s summer-school art teacher embodies the latter. A “ghost world” may well be one where things are insubstantial, and, to be sure, sentimental blather and pretentiousness are that. It is also, perhaps, a world where people long to make a connection with other people but do not do so, quite. This describes Seymour’s liaison with the girlfriend he finally obtains, and even his liaison with Enid. In fact, what Zwigoff and Clowes show us are people longing to make this connection without particularly liking other people. Example: Enid.
Ghost World discards political correctness. For instance, a silly twisted clothes-hanger sculpture is said by the student who made it to express a belief in a woman’s right to choose. We may infer from this film that those in our day who wish to politicize everything could never rely on politics to remake the world Enid and Seymour live in. Nor does it help that sardonic Enid loses much of whatever stature, whatever appeal, she has for us at the movie’s beginning. At one point she informs an old gent named Norman that the bus line where he daily waits for a bus has been discontinued. Norman replies, “You don’t know what you’re talking about.” How true! This 18-year-old girl, we discover, doesn’t know what she’s talking about. Or, rather, sometimes she does and sometimes she doesn’t. Then again, she’s only 18 years old.
The conclusion is a bit of a surreal cheat, and I’m not sure Seymour would have flat-out dismissed the pretty real-estate agent he is dating. Oh well: Ghost World is smart, funny and unusual. The first time I saw it I liked it a lot; the second time, though, it waned on me. Then the third time I saw it, it returned to its former plateau. (Yea!) Birch is flawless (attractive too) as Enid, Johansson is okay–in this film. In other films she is simply lackluster. Buscemi is the opposite of lackluster.
A touching study of alienation that comes with no easy answers or excuses for those who cannot seem to connect in life.