director: terry zwigoff
thora birch, steve buscemi, scarlett johansson, ileana douglas
|.||As any teenage boy will tell you, few things are more
painful than a teenage girl’s sarcasm. The protagonists of Ghost World,
Enid and Becky, are fresh out of high school and about to enter a world
that seems unbearably corny, tacky, ugly and sleazy, and the protective
armour of irony and contempt that they’ve spent years refining is about
to break apart, along with their friendship.
In Crumb, director Terry Zwigoff made a documentary masterpiece of sorts about his friend, the comic book artist, luddite, and world-class misanthrope Robert Crumb. Ghost World -- based on a comic novel by Daniel Clowes, who co-wrote the screenplay with Zwigoff -- is a faithful adaptation from its source, except for the addition of Seymour, a middle-aged misanthrope and record collector played by Steve Buscemi. Seymour, it’s understood, was Zwigoff’s way into the story, past the cold wall of irony, as carefully constructed by Clowes as by Enid and Becky. In any case, it's probably the first time that a story about teenage girls was written with an eye to an audience of middle-aged men.
As Enid and Becky, Thora Birch and Scarlett Johansson are perfect, exasperated by the witlessness of their peers, by the emotional ineptness of adults, and by the grotesque triteness of the world around them. Living entirely in the context of junk pop culture, they can only connect with the hopelessly out-of-step or pathetic, which is what brings Enid to Seymour.
In Zwigoff’s hands, Ghost World ends up as a kind of love story between a young girl and a middle-age man, which takes away from the more touching bond between Enid and Becky. The California suburban wasteland is hardly urbane France, so the romance -- doomed as it is -- between Seymour and Enid seems inescapably creepy. It’s bound to go nowhere, unlike Enid and Becky, who might stand a chance of happiness as adults if they find real value in something, perhaps even just their friendship. Ghost World is, essentially, a story about misfits, all the more welcome because it allows them to be heroic without ignoring the fact that Enid, Becky and Seymour are amiable, sympathetic sociopaths, harmful only to themselves.