Friday, September 4, 2009

Ghost World (Terry Zwigoff, 2001)

I'm not a big fan of comic books, but I do love comic book stores. My favourite is a local shop called The Beguiling. Now, some observers will say, "Hey, how can that be your favourite comic book store when you haven't even been inside?" I, of course, ignore people who are overly anal about little details like that and sheepishly continue doing whatever perverted act I was engaging in before the annoying nitpick was brought up.* But since you seem cool and junk, I'll explain by saying that I enjoy hanging outside The Beguiling and looking at their ever-changing window display. Which during the late '90s would repeatedly feature a comic by Daniel Clowes called "Ghost World." The moderately crude drawn image of Enid, the book's extremely disaffected protagonist, with her glasses, Louise Brooks hairstyle, and blank stare always managed to grab my attention whenever I found myself walking by the hip establishment. The fact that I was vaguely familiar with the source material when the film version was announced was an unique situation for me, as I am normally clueless as to what the majority of movies are adapted from. Anyway, this non-ignorant feeling was a tad unorthodox, but also quite refreshing. Even though I hadn't read a single page of the comic, I nevertheless felt a strange affinity for the characters, especially Enid. And to see her made flesh by the wonderful Thora Birch in Terry Zwigoff's Ghost World was one of the most rewarding cinematic experiences of my life. An anti-social role model for the ages, Enid is smug, bratty, and a bit of asshole. In other words, a pale delight.

Moving at a different speed than almost everyone else (her slowness permeates all aspects of her life), Enid, and her equally deliberate best friend Rebecca (Scarlett Johansson), are recent high school graduates who decide to skip the collegiate experience in order to focus their attention on acquiring an apartment, finding jobs, tormenting convenience store employees named Josh (Brad Renfro), and toying with Seymour (Steve Buscemi), a shy record collector. The first two things take up the majority of Rebecca's time, while the toying of Seymour part lands squarely at the booted feet of Enid. She and the record geek form an odd friendship that alienates from Rebecca, whose life seems to be going in different direction.

The frustration Enid feels over Rebecca's apparent disinterest in weirdness is the main drive of the film. It kinda reminded me of the tough time I had getting so-called friends to like industrial music. I mean, no matter I how I tried, I constantly found myself being rebuffed and passed over by more innocuous genres of music (the people hawking rap and heavy metal had a field day when it came to corrupting the ears of minors).

This estrangement from seemingly everyone around her is what inundates Enid on a daily basis. However, her level of disaffection is so pronounced, that it's no wonder her only ally is a loner who detests humanity.

I found myself laughing at the weirdest things this time around. Sure, I still found Steve Buscemi's misanthropic outbursts to be just as humourous as they were the first time I heard them. But little nuggets like when Enid knows this guy in a bar is a dick and has her opinion verified when the guy says, "Who's up for some reggae?" Enid's self-satisfied look and cocksure hand gesture after this question is asked were priceless.

Also, every scene with Illeana Douglas' Roberta Allsworth was awkwardly hilarious. Reminding me of a cross between Laurie Anderson (she spoke in this... stilted... I'm an overblown windbag sort of way) and Ann Magnuson, in that, she was matchless in terms of being sexy while quirky (especially while sitting crossed-legged), Illeana tears pomposity a new one with her scathing portrayal of an art teacher in love with the sound of own her voice.

Since it was the visually alluring image of Enid's symmetrical mug that initially drew me to the world of Ghost World, it should come as no surprise that it was Thora Birch's version of the aggressively cynical adolescent that kept me in a perpetual state of well-balanced enthrallment. Exquisitely pale and shapely to an almost mind-blowing level of curvaceousness, Thora is impassive perfection as Enid. Reciting her snarky dialogue with nary a hint of effort, the stony faced actress navigates this garish universe (the shots of the advertising-laden streets were depressing) with an inexpressive aplomb.

It's true, that I found her to be exceedingly attractive, and couldn't quite fathom why all the guys they would come across gravitated towards Rebecca (who literally appears to be nonliving at times), but I like to think that my love for her transcends the usual superficialities that go into my obsessions. Highly impulsive, with an affinity for bohemian tights, and attracted to misfits, Thora's Enid, not to sound foppish, is a character that I will always treasure.

I'm not, by the way, bitter about the uneven trajectory of Thora Birch's career when compared to that of her co-star, Scarlett Johansson. I just think it's a shame that we don't see much of Thora nowadays.

* When it comes to wandering around downtown, I'm a night person. Meaning, every time I'd walk past The Beguiling, it would be closed. Hence, my never having been inside.



  1. Great review. I love this movie. Your post definitely has me wanting to watch it again. Have a cool weekend. Cheers!

  2. i loved this movie and yer great review reminds me haven't seen it in ages.

    i say go inside The Beguiling someday and look at their old comics. ask someone who works there if they have any of Clowes's Eightball comics. Each issue had a bunch of short stories (including early Ghost World stuff). A lot of the comics stuff is touched on in the movie.

    when i saw Ghost World for the 1st time my heart jumped out of my chest when the wheelchair bound trivia guy came into the coffee shop. he was in the comic and i'm glad he and other things from comic made it into the flick. if yer an Enid Coleslaw fan they're worth looking up.

    my moms rented this because she looked at the cover at the video store and thought it was supposed to be scary. what a silly.

  3. Saw this movie, didn't really care for it, but I just wanted to add that ScarJo has an admirable set of ta-tas.

  4. Keith: You, too. Prost!

    wiec?: Thanks, man. I hadn't seen it in ages, either.

    I have no excuse for not going inside The Beguiling, as I just found out that they're open til 9pm on Fridays.

    I didn't know her last name was Coleslaw.

    You gotta admit, the Indian musical at the beginning is kinda scary. ;)

    Karim Amir: Ta-tas?!? *quickly checks the Urban Dictionary* Oh, you mean breasticles. Anyway, yeah, they are quite something.

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  6. I developed a huge cinematic crush on Thora Birch after seeing this film. Now, why didn't I know any cool alterna-girls like this when I was in high school? oh well...

    This is a great film that has aged surprisingly well and that opening bit with that crazy Hindi dance sequence gets me every time.

    I also really dig the feeling of melancholy that slowly seeps in over the course of the film until it completely takes it over and captures that feeling of direction-less you sometimes get at that age.

    Oh, and The Beguiling is a pretty good store but nothing beats the Silver Snail... hands down THE best comic book store ever.

  7. Yes, scary is a good way. You're absolutely right.

  8. I've been of the opinion that Thora Birch is one of the hottest chicks on the planet ever since I saw this movie. The pictures you posted at the end only prove the point.

    Anyhow, I love this least I did love it a lot between when it came out and when I lost the DVD a few years ago. I haven't seen it in like 3 years. I'm not sure how it would have aged with's definately a movie that grabs you at a certain time of life and I'm not sure what it will mean to me now...but I do think it's a wonderful example of quirkiness done right.

    That and Thora Birch is just really freaking hot.

  9. Hey, Cliff.

    I remember your sane love of Thora Birch in Ghost World. I'm glad to see it still exists. :)

  10. I was an avid fan of Daniel Clowes' comics in the '90s. 2001's GHOST WORLD captures Clowes' disgust with trends and fascination with misfits. It manages to be hilarious, thoughtful, and melancholy. Over twenty years later, GHOST WORLD is still a quirky delight every time I see it.