Ghost World
(Click here for Internet Movie Database entry)

Ok. Every year since the Full Monty, there has been an Indie movie that breaks out and becomes the feel-good movie of the year.  This year, it is Ghost World even though it isn't what you'd call a feel-good movie.  Ghost World is based on a Comic Book that I had never heard of, produced by Daniel Clowes who wrote the screenplay.  This movie tells the story of two young women, Enid and Rebecca (Thora Birch and Scarlett Johansson), who are graduating from high school where they were definitely part of the ``out" crowd.  They must now decide what to do with their lives.  Rebecca is ready to get on with her life and wants to get a job and her own apartment while Enid is a bit depressed.  The two are best friends but they grow apart as the film goes on.  They inhabit a comic book world which is maybe not so surprising since the film is based on a comic book. This is particularly true of the supporting characters who are very one-dimensional.  In particular, a lot of screen time is spent on an art class that Enid attends taught by Indie-queen Illeana Douglas.  It's meant to be comic relief but it detracts from the rest of the movie.  The exception to this one-dimensionalism is Seymour (Steve Buscemi) who is a fortyish single guy who collects old records and has been in the same dead-end job for 19 years.  Enid and Rebecca run into him at a garage sale.  Enid is drawn to Seymour who has a similar cynical, depressive world-view.  The three main cast members, Birch, Johansson and Buscemi all put in strong performances.  Buscemi, of course, is already well known for his off-beat roles (Armageddon, Con Air, Fargo) and he gives a very restrained performance as Seymour. Birch and Johansson are now 19 and 16 respectively but already have 20 years of movie experience between them.  Johansson is best known as the traumatized girl in The Horse Whisperer and Birch for her Enid-like character in American Beauty.  Birch, in particular, shines in her role in Ghost World.  Johansson is good too but she doesn't have so much to work with for her character which is underwritten.  Ghost World has received almost uniformly excellent reviews and I expect it will show up on a lot of top ten lists at the end of the year.  But it isn't that great.  In fact, if it weren't for Birch and Buscemi, who rise above the material with their great performances, it would be pretty pedestrian.  Ghost World's director, Terry Zwigoff, has only done two previous films, both documentaries, and it shows.  I really liked Ghost World at first but as time went on and the plot meandered around and around, I liked it less and less.  I even got to the point where I wanted to look at my watch which is always a bad sign.  It's an Indie film so the production values don't have to be so good but you expect the writing to be better.  A similar kind of film from last year was The Tao of Steve which was also a little rough but that was more than made up for by its good writing, characters and acting.  It's possible my expectations were set too high or that, as usual, I'm out of the mainstream but then Claudia's first comment when we came out of the theatre was, ``I hated it."  I was a little more positive than that but Ghost World is a little like High Fidelity, which I thought was one of the most insightful films I'd ever seen and my female friends thought,``boring!"  In particular, High Fidelity is a male viewpoint written by a man.  Ghost World is a female viewpoint also written by a man.  This could be fine too but Claudia felt it didn't ring true.  I just thought it got a bit boring.  The film is strongest at the beginning where it is telling the story of the two friends whose lives are moving in opposite directions.  And even though Buscemi gives a great performance, his appearance in the film causes Johansson to more or less disappear and it becomes a story about the relationship between an 18 year old woman and a 40 year man who understand each other but can't be together.  This isn't so interesting.  You should probably go see Ghost World anyway.  Even though it's not a completely successful film, you can see from the length of this review that it is thought provoking.