Reviewed by

Christopher Armstead

Every once in a while a movie comes along that is loved by everybody. Critics, viewers, exhibitors, distributors… everybody. It is because of this overwhelming praise that ‘Ghost World’ received back when it was released back in 2001 that I figured that I should track this movie down and give it a look especially considering that not only does it have a sky-high Metacritic rating but also a very high viewer rating. So after watching ‘Ghost World’ and instead of having me tell you that I despised this great film, loved by so many, perhaps we should just say that I’m not nearly sophisticated enough to ‘get’ this great film and let it go at that.

Enid (Thora Birch) and Rebecca (Scarlett Johansson) are a couple disaffected high school students who have just stepped off the graduating platform and about to begin their new lives. Enid and Rebecca don’t seem to be all that popular, though it must be by choice because when I was in high school, as I try to relate to this film, girls who looked like those two young ladies pretty much ran things. This leads me to one of the problems I had with the movie in that Enid and Rebecca are outsiders for certain, but not due to any inferiority complex that they seem to have but because they feel so SUPERIOR to everybody around them. Regardless Enid and Rebecca plan to eschew college and get an apartment together as soon as they find jobs, and as soon as Enid takes this summer school art class since she flunked the regular art class and can’t get her diploma.

Since Enid is our main female of concern in this film we meet her dad (Bob Balaban) who seems like a nice enough man and genuinely concerned about his daughter’s well being, though Enid has nothing but disdain for the man. Also as wayward youths with time on their hands tend to do, Enid and Rebecca do silly things like scour the local personal ads and play mean tricks on people, such as the one they played by calling some dude looking for someone he saw on the subway and roping their good buddy Josh (Brad Renfro) into accompanying them while they watch the loser sit alone while

they watch the loser sit alone while the date they setup never shows. Enid for whatever reason takes a liking to this guy, Seymour (Steve Buscemi), finds out where he lives and becomes kind of like his friend. Then her relationship with Rebecca runs into some challenges as Rebecca begins to learn that the whole ‘outsider’ thing was cool and all in high school but in the real world, when being an outsider gets in the way of getting of job, meeting normal people and paying your rent, being an outsider needs to chill which is something her lazy ass friend can’t get through her skull. Eventually the summer school art class, the inappropriate relationship with the old dude, the problems with dad, the frayed relationships with her best buddy and the rest of Enid’s various complications will all come to head leading to a conclusion which is very… artistic and metaphorical.

The tagline for this picture is ‘accent the negative’, which is cool because that means that director Terry Wygoff, working off a Daniel Clowes script which was adapted from his own work, accomplished what they set out to do. One of the things that I read from people in praise of this film is how the character of Enid captures ‘how they feel’. Enid is selfish, disrespectful, manipulative, lazy, mean and destructive. Pretty much all the time. She’s almost pathological. If you ‘feel’ this way, you need to seek help. And I’m not trying to be funny. I suppose the film is unique in that we’ve seen plenty of films about high school kids who on the outside looking in, due to whatever shortcoming they may possess, but this one deals with a pair of girls on the outside looking out because the rest of the world is too stupid to comprehend their advanced gifts, and quite honestly, it was damned unpleasant to watch. There was nothing amusing about Enid toying with the feelings of a forty-five year old loser and there certainly wasn’t anything amusing about the forty-five year old loser having sex with the seventeen year-old girl – hell, let’s make her legal and call her eighteen, and then assuming that they are going to have a  relationship. It was pathetic and sad, but then we are accentuating the negative here so I suppose it was extremely effective in that regard. Who in the hell can, or wants, to relate to that?

So I didn’t like this movie all that much but the acting was very good with even Miss Johansson’s much maligned acting style fitting the character she was playing perfectly. The film also had some very funny moments in between all this negativity that captured everybody’s ‘feelings’ and the characters did have an authentic feel to them. Look, I understand if I asked for a show of hands of forty-five year old dudes who would like to have sex with a seventeen year old racked up like Thora Birch, those hands would probably blacken the sky, but that doesn’t make the relationship any less appropriate or Enid’s behavior any less destructive. But we are accentuating the negative here. I need to remember that.

Hey, I just didn’t ‘get it’ and I could have easily lied and made up whole bunch of bullshit on what I thought it meant and how deep reaching the negative message touched me, just like I did in Art Appreciation back in the day, but then I’ve never had the good sense to lie. Much.


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