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"Ghost World"

Directed by Terry Zwigoff.
Written by Daniel Clowes and Terry Zwigoff.  Based on the comic book by Clowes.
Starring Thora Birch, Scarlet Johansson and Steve Buscemi.
Release Year:  2000 
Review Date:  1/11/02 


I am continuing to spend January catching up on films that I missed from last year that I believe might be in Oscar contention in two months, and "Ghost World" was near the top of the list. 

For those of you that liked this film, please shoot me a line and tell me why...because I thought this film sucked!  Not *kind of* sucked, but *fucking* sucked.

I wondered, after leaving the theater, if I had seen a different version of the film, because I had heard so many good things about it coming in.  Then, I considered my mood coming in, my level of alertness, etc...and, I think that all of those things were fine.  This movie just did nothing for me.

Briefly, the movie follows the exploits of high school seniors Enid (Thora Birch) and Rebecca (Scarlet Johansson) as they try to figure out what will happen next in their lives.  For Rebecca, that is easy--she has graduated, so it's get a job, move out of the parents' house, live her life.  For Enid, it is a trickier question because she actually hasn't graduated yet...she needs to pass one last art class to be finished, and she has just met a strange fast-food joint executive/album collector named Seymour (Steve Buscemi) that she might be in love with.

Even now, hours later, I haven't really figured out why I didn't enjoy this movie.  It wasn't for lack of effort--I felt like all of the principals were doing something...Birch as the animated, confused Enid and Johansson as her foil were fine, and Buscemi does nothing special in his role as a lovable loser.  Maybe, it was because this movie was so boring.


Help me out, here.  I feel like this movie might fall into a comedy-drama category, except...I only laughed three times:  twice when the redneck at the 7-11-style store was flinging around his nunchakus...and, when a large, pregnant woman smoking a cigarette stumbled though the background of a scene in front of a retirement building.  I was slightly amused by the fact that the high school's graduation was sponsored by Hostess and Dunkin' Donuts (you have to look closely at the yellow banner).  Otherwise, all of Enid's wise-ass comments fell flat, and there are a hundred of them that seemed to be somebody.

And, in terms of drama, I understand that Enid was a class-A screwup:  she ruins Seymour's life by getting him fired from his job, and making him show up for a date that never materializes.  But, judging from some of the dramatic music that accompanies scenes of Enid walking the streets alone at night, or laying on the bed wondering why her phone never rings, I felt like the director was trying to make me feel sorry for her, which I simply did not since she was intentionally fucking things up throughout the film.

Teri Garr is in this film.  Why?  She is in such a throwaway scene that one understands why she goes doesn't come off as very interesting.

I have not read the comic book on which this film is based.  But, for those that have:  why the hell is this film called "Ghost World"?  I am fairly confident that I didn't miss any ghost-related references, or references about the earth or the moon or the world in general.  I hate it when films use a title that has no relevance to the movie, so I am hoping that there is some relevance to the comic.

In terms of the scenes involving the "Coon's Chicken" sequence, I don't even know where to begin.  My main thought with it is:  what's the message that is being sent out there?  If there is no message, why even include it?  And, why does the black girl sitting next to Enid in her art class (credited, I should add, as "Black girl" in the film's credits; nice touch) only offer a sneer when faced with a pretty racist piece of 1920's retail history?

The ending of this film sucked.  Flat-out, it was poor.  Why even include that scene where Seymour is in therapy?  I am assuming that the studio (Miramax) would have cut that scene out, but director Terry Zwigoff insisted on keeping it in.  Bad move...sometimes, the "director's cut" is not a good idea.

I think that Buscemi won a couple of awards recently for his performance in this film.  Why?  Buscemi was so average in this film that all I could think about was good Steve Buscemi films after leaving the theater.  Don't get me wrong--I love him and he is usually very good in his films.  Here in "Ghost World", his character does not lack for depth or a intriguing background.  But, for me, I feel that he has played lovable loser one too many times.

Look at him, for chrissakes:  this guy LOOKS LIKE A LOSER!!  Those teeth, that hair--I can't think of anyone that looks more like a loser that Steve Buscemi.  So, in terms of acting, is this a stretch for him?  No.  Tom Cruise playing a loser?  Julia Roberts playing an outcast?  Jim Carrey playing a cold-blooded killer?  *That* would be interesting to see.  In fact, Buscemi's loser in "The Big Lebowski"--a better film all around anyway--is a more interesting character, and he has far fewer lines.  His loser in "Fargo", his loser in "Desperado", his loser in "Armageddon"...wait, THAT IS WHAT STEVE BUSCEMI DOES BEST!  My favorite Buscemi film is still "Living in Oblivion" and nothing is going to change that.

There is no question that I fall into the minority about my thoughts on "Ghost World", judging from other critics' reaction so far.  But, this film did nothing for me.  I don't need to see it again to know!

Rating:  Rental


Comments?  Drop me a line at


Bellview Rating System:

"Opening Weekend":  This is the highest rating a movie can receive.  Reserved for movies that exhibit the highest level of acting, plot, character development, setting...or Salma Hayek.  Not necessarily in that order. 

"$X.XX Show":  This price changes each year due to the inflation of movie prices; currently, it is the $9.50 Show.  While not technically perfect, this is a movie that will still entertain you at a very high level.  "Undercover Brother" falls into this category; it's no "Casablanca", but you'll have a great time watching.  The $9.50 Show won't win any Oscars, but you'll be quoting lines from the thing for ages (see "Office Space"). 

"Matinee":  An average movie that merits no more than a $6.50 viewing at your local theater.  Seeing it for less than $9.50 will make you feel a lot better about yourself.  A movie like "Blue Crush" fits this category; you leave the theater saying "That wasn't too, did you see that Lakers game last night?" 

"Rental":  This rating indicates a movie that you see in the previews and say to your friend, "I'll be sure to miss that one."  Mostly forgettable, you couldn't lose too much by going to Hollywood Video and paying $3 to watch it with your sig other, but you would only do that if the video store was out of copies of "Ronin."  If you can, see this movie for free.  This is what your TV Guide would give "one and a half stars." 

"Hard Vice":  This rating is the bottom of the barrel.  A movie that only six other human beings have witnessed, this is the worst movie I have ever seen.  A Shannon Tweed "thriller," it is so bad as to be funny during almost every one of its 84 minutes, and includes the worst ending ever put into a movie.  Marginally worse than "Cabin Boy", "The Avengers" or "Leonard, Part 6", this rating means that you should avoid this movie at all costs, or no costs, EVEN IF YOU CAN SEE IT FOR FREE!  (Warning:  strong profanity will be used in all reviews of "Hard Vice"-rated movies.)

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All material by Justin Elliot Bell for SMR/Bellview/ except where noted
1999-2009 Justin Elliot Bell This site was last updated 01/08/09