ghost world directed by Terry Zwigoff, written by Zwigoff and Daniel Clowes, based on the comic book by Clowes, produced by Lianne Halfon, John Malkovich and Russell Smith, with Thora Birch, Scarlett Johansson, Steve Buscemi, Illeana Douglas and Bob Balaban. A Mr. Mudd production. A United Artist/MGM release. 111 minutes. Opens Friday (August 3). For venues and times, see First-Run Movies. Rating: NNNN Rating: NNNN
where the princess diaries takes a fairy-tale approach to a misfit teenage girl trying to fit in, Ghost World offers a harsh, sarcastic and very funny view of weird girls standing alone. Based on the comic book by Daniel Clowes, it stars Thora Birch as Enid and Scarlett Johansson as Rebecca, best friends who've just graduated from high school and now face uninspiring futures -- boring, minimum-wage jobs. Proud of being uncool, to the point where they regard themselves as cool, Enid and Rebecca hang around comic book stores and diners and follow weird people, including anal-retentive record collector Seymour (Steve Buscemi).
Aside from being laugh-out-loud funny -- Birch and Johanson turn deadpan mocking into an art form -- Ghost World opens a window on characters rarely seen in movies. Enid, Rebecca and Seymour are fringe-dwellers, eccentrics who in fact are ethical malcontents, people smart enough to realize they'll never fit into the shopping-mall, fast-food mainstream and so save themselves the pain by standing on the sidelines.
But the sidelines can be a lonely place, and Ghost World is all about trying to make a human connection when you feel invisible.
This is the first dramedy from Terry Zwigoff, who gave us the mesmerizing 1995 documentary Crumb, one of the best docs ever made. His fans have been patiently waiting since then for his follow-up, and Ghost World is the film we hoped he'd make. It capitalizes on his crackling, dry, sometimes cruel sense of humour and his obvious love for the outsider.
We sympathize with Enid and Rebecca (though their plight feels like a passing phase), but it's Seymour who steals our hearts. I love the fact that a man of this sort is getting a turn in the spotlight. We all know guys like Seymour, whose obsessions with collecting and living life by their own strict code have turned them obstinate and arrogant, but who underneath their disdainful surface are actually nice guys. They're romantically challenged, but Ghost World gives them their amorous moment.
Buscemi is well cast, although the comic-book Seymour is a much bitterer man, and he and Birch have a sweet, very believable chemistry.
Birch, remembered as the daughter in American Beauty, joins the gang of talented young female actors presently burning up screens. She stands alongside Christina Ricci, Kirsten Dunst, Reese Witherspoon, Gaby Hoffman and Rachael Leigh Cook, all incredibly gifted performers who one day soon will be fighting for the few good roles allotted to women in their 20s. We could be witnessing the golden age of their careers right now.