Ghost World

Ghost World (2001)
MGM Home Entertainment
Cast: Thora Birch, Steve Buscemi, Brad Renfro
Extras: Deleted Scenes, Featurette, Music Video, Trailers

"Ghost World" is a film that resides near the top of just about every film critic’s top ten list for 2001. Unfortunately, this was not an easy movie to market and even all the accolades didn’t lead to much box office success. One look at the DVD packaging is evidence of this problem as the film described on the back of the case bears very little resemblance to the excellent movie contained within. "Ghost World" is not a teen comedy, heck I wouldn’t even classify it as a comedy at all. Instead, the movie is a bittersweet tale of growing up that is brilliantly directed and written and which features stand-out performances by the entire cast.

Thora Birch and Scarlett Johansson star as Enid and Rebecca, two lifelong friends who have just graduated from high school and are now ready to set off on their own just like they’ve always planned. But a typical life made up of college, job, and family just doesn’t appeal to them. While Becky quickly gets a going-nowhere job in order to pay the rent on their soon-to-be apartment, Enid finds herself taking a summer school art class in order to graduate and procrastinating over finding a job of her own.

The phrase "Ghost World" refers to the fact that these two inhabit a world quite apart from that of most normal folks — the dreary, cookie-cutter world of strip-malls, fast food, and lemming-like social mores — and they delight in observing and chronicling what they see as the pitiful existence of the average Joe. During one such escapade, Enid, Becky, and their listless pal Josh (Brad Renfro) decide to play a prank on a sad-sack of a schmuck who placed a desperate and hilarious personal ad. Luring Seymour (Steve Buscemi) to an awful 1950s-themed diner, the trio watch in awe as the übergeek strolls in to wait for a date who is never coming. Enid becomes fascinated with this particular specimen and follows him home. Later, she stumbles upon him at a garage sale and accompanies him back to his apartment to check out his vast collection of jazz and blues LPs.

Entering Seymour’s sanctum sanctorum, Enid soon realizes that she has found a kindred soul adrift in the Ghost World and the two become friends. It becomes Enid’s mission in life to find Seymour a girlfriend and before long she is ignoring both Becky and her own future. In the end it becomes clear that those who are truly unique individuals will never be able to inhabit the Ghost World and friendships and relationships must end and change as a result.

Based on the graphic novel by Daniel Clowes, "Ghost World" is director Terry Zwigoff’s follow-up to his acclaimed documentary "Crumb" — another film based on a comic strip. At times hilarious, the film is at its heart a rather dark tale that I found to be powerfully moving in its portrayal of the end of childhood friendships, dreams, and innocence.

Scenes that at first blush are laugh-out-loud funny are often also the most tragic. Enid’s art class is one such example as her clueless instructor (Illeana Douglas) never ceases to amuse yet the fact that the finest artist in the class, Enid, is overlooked and eventually pilloried speaks volumes about life for those who reside outside the Ghost World.

"Ghost World" is presented in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio and is <$16x9,anamorphic>ally enhanced. The overall image is solid without appearing too sharp and there are no physical blemishes, compression artifacts, or problems of any sort. This is a stunning transfer of a film that on its surface wouldn’t seem to be too visually oriented. But bear in mind that the inspiration for this tale is a graphic novel and it will soon become clear that every shot is carefully composed to convey without words exactly what the protagonists are seeing and feeling. As a result, there is an incredibly diverse palette of colors and lighting used throughout the film and this transfer capably handles them all.

Audio is presented in an English <$DD,Dolby Digital> <$5.1,5.1 mix> that packs more detail than is immediately noticeable. This is not a whiz-bang soundtrack by any means but dialogue is always clear and the music and sound effects are well-balanced and play an important role in conveying Enid’s changing worldview. Surround use is intermittent but effective when it does come into play.

Extras include four deleted and extended scenes (none of which are all that compelling), an 11-minute promotional featurette, the complete clip of the musical number "Jaan Pehechaan Ho" from the Indian film "Gumnaam" which plays over the opening credits, the film’s theatrical trailer, and trailers for "The Princess Bride" and "The Terminator."

It’s easy to see why so many critics went nuts over "Ghost World." Here is a literate, thought-provoking tale of growing up that doesn’t talk down to its audience. Each viewer will likely come away with their own unique take on the film as each person will relate to the main characters in slightly different ways. For me, the film served as a reminder of all of the friendships that seemed like they would last forever yet somehow vanished into the mist of my own Ghost World. This is a film that is heartbreaking in so many ways yet still manages to reaffirm the strength of the human spirit. And they want us to believe this is a teen comedy?

MGM’s new DVD offers up stunning video and audio quality although some may decry the lack of insightful bonus features. But this is the type of movie that would likely lose some of its magic if the filmmakers spelled out exactly what they were trying to say. Much better to leave it to the viewers’ imagination to fill in the blanks and form their own conclusions. "Ghost World" is very highly recommended.