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Thora Birch (American Beauty) and Scarlett Johansson (Lost in Translation) "sneak into your heart and stay there" (Rolling Stone) in this "eerie, masterful movie" (Movieline) from the acclaimed director of Crumb. Co-starring Brad Renfro (Deuces Wild), Illeana Douglas (Stir of Echos) and Steve Buscemi (Fargo) in "the best role of his career" (Movieline), Ghost World is a "smartly strange comedy [that] stands out like the Taj Mahal" (Time)! While their classmates head for college, Enid (Birch) and Rebecca (Johansson) focus their energies on tormenting those around them - from a goofy convenience store clerk (Renfro) to an eccentric art teacher (Douglas). But when they zero in on an oddball loner (Buscemi) looking for Miss Right, their seemingly innocent meddling threatens to shatter one of their hearts not to mention their lifelong friendship.
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A wonderful film and the end is debated as to whether it is allegorical or literal.
I love Enid (played by Thora Birch, whose character is much more three-dimensional than the girl she played in "American Beauty."). A teenage H.L. Mencken, Enid skewers pretentious poseurs and tips over sacred cows. But, underneath her outer punk persona, there is a soft-hearted hero-worshipper. Her predicament is that she's stranded on a social desert island and uses cynicism as a shield to protect her from the hopeless banality in which heroes and passion are deemed passe by people who walk through life questioning nothing, but just parroting the answers they've picked up from the larger society.
"Ghost World" abounds in social commentary, but doesn't fall into the schmaltzy trap of trying to "solve" the world's social ills. Although on the surface Enid is directionless, she nonetheless has a mania for sketching a diary of the oddballs and weirdos that make up her small town. An excellent artist and charicaturist, Enid ends up failing art class TWICE.
Her airheaded hippy/burnout art teacher, Roberta (Illeana Douglas), is a walking cliche of a total conformist affecting an air of anti-authoritarianism. She blows off Enid's diary and her cartoons of Don Knotts, but pushes her students to instead produce so-called "controversial" art. A really dead-on scene is when one of Roberta's sycophantic students creates a sculpture out of coathangers, which represents "a woman's right to choose, something I feel super-strongly about." It's a gem of a parody on political art in which the politics are much stronger than the art. I was rolling on the floor when Roberta's real bad college art film "Mirror/Father/Mirror" clip was playing. Wow, that rings true. Roberta doesn't encourage the artistic impulse so much as pushing her agenda on the students to be "controversial" and "confront people's attitudes."
So, Enid decides to spoof Roberta and bring in a "found object" of a Jim Crow charicature from the 1920s of "Coon's Chicken," which depicts a monkey-like negro. This angers the other students (who were sotto voce receiving the message that they should only confront people with PC controversy), but the irony is in how Roberta reacts to the Jim Crow poster; Enid can't get the time of day from her when it comes to her own talented artwork, but her jokes on Roberta's inanities wins Roberta over to her cause and even inspires Roberta to get Enid a scholarship to art college. All this falls apart when Roberta enters the piece in an exhibit, and the local censors force her to remove the poster and fail Enid in her class. Her capitulation reveals her devotion to "controversy" and "confrontation" to be a hollow pose, and she covers her rear by letting Enid be the lamb to the slaughter.
The relationship between Enid and Seymour (Steve Buscemi) evinces Enid's yearnings to find someone to look up to, rather than down upon. I liked Steve Buscemi a lot. I'm so used to him playing funny roles, that it was sort of incongruous seeing him play it (mostly) straight in a comedic movie, but it worked quite well. Like Enid, Seymour is a middle-aged outcast, and at first becomes the victim to one of Enid's and her best friend Rebecca's (Scarlett Johansson) cruel pranks. But underneath the nerdish and pitiful exterior, Enid comes to discover in Seymour someone as isolated and alientated from society as she is. She finds in him a noble soul, whose passions are worn less on his sleeve than Enid's are, but locked up in his 1920s-themed room dedicated to his 78 rpm blues and ragtime records and poster art from the same era. Enid sees in Seymour a lot of herself, but also someone who has been run over once too many times in life and whose social rebellions have shrivelled into repressed loneliness. Enid finds in Seymour a hero, and gushes "I'd kill for a room like this" when complimenting his passion for nostalgia. To which Seymour -- who has given up on the possibility of ever fitting in or finding love -- replies "go ahead, kill me."
By the movie's end, Seymour starts asserting his inwardly pent-up feelings to relate to the world through his romance with Enid. ....
As I recall, this movie was nomimated for only one Oscar (best adapted screenplay) by the Academy of Motion Pictures "Arts and Sciences." And yet, this was the best movie in a year barren of talent, originality and true cinematic art. Now I understand why this movie is called "Ghost World."
The DVD version is better, because it is widescreen, however the transfer is clean on the VHS.