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Ghost World (Terry Zwigoff - 2001)

I am a huge, slobbering fan of Daniel Clowes' brilliant graphic novel, Ghost World. It's a classic commentary on a disaffected generation. It's a subtle, nuanced portrait of teenage life, encompassing everything I remember from that time. The angst. The overwhelming urge to rebel. The social awkwardness. Everything. And while it may not seem like the ideal candidate for a transition to celluloid, director Terry Zwigoff hits all the right notes in this inspired adaptation.

Enid (Thora Birch) and Rebecca (Scarlett Johansson) are life long friends. They share the same kind of caustic, world-weary view on life and enjoy nothing more than making sardonic observations of satanic diner patrons or the meaningless nature of existence. Having recently extricated themselves from their miserable high school and all the walking stereotypes that inhabit it, Enid and Rebecca prepare to venture into the real world side-by-side, just like it's always been for them. They make vague plans about settling into throwaway jobs and renting an apartment together. They convince each other that their lives will take care of themselves. But it becomes increasingly clear that Rebecca is much more willing to embrace conventionality than Enid. Eventually, this rift in the friendship becomes irreparable. Enid doesn't know what she wants out of life, so she continues to amble about aimlessly. Instead of getting a steady job and condo-shopping like Rebecca, Enid prefers to dye her hair green, listen to The Buzzcocks or hang out with endearingly nerdy record collector Seymour (Steve Buscemi).

The real strength of this film is the level of connectivity we have with Enid and her wayward journey through life. Alienated teens who choose to live on the societal fringes have not fared well in film. Too often presented as caricatures, Ghost World develops Enid into a believable, three dimensional character. Scarlett Johansson’s Rebecca may be a tad underwritten and a little cursorily drawn. But Enid is perfect, helped immeasurably by Thora Birch‘s fantastic take on the character. In fact, other than Johannson’s usual vanilla performance, everyone in the cast shines. Buscemi, playing decidedly against type, gives a performance that is probably the best of his acting career. Ileana Douglas’ airy art teacher and Bob Balaban’s lovable, yet disconnected dad are pitch-perfect in support.

While it’s not a completely faithful, panel-by-panel adaptation of the graphic novel, Ghost World is remarkably true to the vision of its source material. And some of the film’s additions, such as the unconventional relationship between Enid and Seymour, actually improve upon it. Ghost World is a timeless, painfully authentic representation of teenage existence that should be required viewing for any high schooler wary of the world before them.

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