Saturday Review: Ghost World

Ghost World may seem like an odd choice for a Bureau review, but it’s adapted from a graphic novel, it features hipster-nerds as lead characters, and at least one interpretation of the ending nudges it in the direction of genre.

It’s also a great film.

Cast, Crew, and Other Info:

Director: Terry Zwigoff

Writer: Daniel Clowes.

Cast:

Thora Birch as Enid
Scarlett Johansson as Rebecca
Steve Buscemi as Seymour
Brad Renfro as Josh
Bob Balaban as Enid’s Dad
Debra Azar as Melora

Available here and here.

Premise:

Two teenaged girls find their relationship strained after they graduate high school, and one falls for a geeky older man after they subject him to a cruel prank.

High Points:

Rebecca: This is so bad it’s almost good.

Enid: This is so bad it’s gone past good and back to bad again.

This film features excellent performances and some very funny dialogue. The Internet Movie Database features several of these, though they lose something without the film’s context.

Low Point:

I wish the film, like the comic, could have shown us more of Becky’s story in the second half.

The Scores:

Originality: 4/6 Many movies depict teenage life. Few get it right. While Ghost World has been adapted from a graphic novel, the movie has significantly altered the plot.

Effects: 5/6 The film has no effects, but it does include some impressive artwork. See Fiz’s posting about “effects” which follows.

Story: 6/6 The original graphic novel was episodic in nature. Clowes, clearly influenced by Zwigoff’s Crumb, introduces Seymour to provide a focus.

Acting: 6/6. This film features excellent casting and characterization.

Production: 6/6. The film presents the world most of us inhabit, rather than its Hollywood equivalent. We see power lines, dirty streets, and homely people. This film captures the art of the everyday.

Emotional Response: 6/6. The strength of the film, as with the graphic novel, is that we see the world from the central characters’ perspectives, but we can also assess the central characters from the world’s point of view.

Overall: 6/6.

Ghost World receives a total score of 39/42

The Finale

What happens at the end of the movie? In the graphic novel, the enigmatic bus line has been re-activated, and Enid is clearly leaving, as per her childhood fantasy. Clowes, later, shows us one possible future for Enid and Rebecca in his graphic novel Pussey! In the movie, however, , we’re not told that the bus line has been reactivated. Indeed, the evidence suggests that it remains closed. Is Enid just leaving, as in the comic? Has her bus finally arrived to take her to her future life? Or is the bus somehow an otherworldly transport? In the wake of her serious setbacks, is Enid committing suicide?

5 replies on “Saturday Review: Ghost World”

  1. Grounded says:

    Effects
    Maybe there should be an alternative category to replace Effects for movies such as this? Seems a little strange to mark a movie down for not having any…

    • Timeshredder says:

      Re: Effects

      I’m inclined to agree. Any thoughts on the matter?

      • fiziko says:

        Re: Effects

        I’m inclined to agree. Any thoughts on the matter?

        It’s almost impossible to find a movie without visual effects these days. The IMDB lists Custom Film Effects and Digital Film Labs as the companies that did the optical and visual effects in the film. In other words, there were visual effects, but they were done so perfectly that they were completely invisible, as a visual effect should be. (I haven’t seen the movie in years, but somehow I vaguely remember a mild translucency to the rear end of the bus that pulled up, though that could just be my memory playing tricks on me given my preferred interpretation of that scene.) Anyway, I’d say that it’s fair to retroactively change the score to a perfect 6 given that we couldn’t even spot the effects that people got paid for.

        There are entire effects companies that don’t get billed, either, because their entire job is to digitally airbrush the people who appear on film, removing acne scars and the like. The actors and actresses who demand the services don’t want it known that they need it, so they have it in their contracts that the companies don’t get on screen credit. There was an article about this in the weekly edition of Variety a couple of months back. They didn’t name names, but I’ve always wondered why Cameron Diaz didn’t have any close-ups in her early films, and now I suspect I may know why.

        • Grounded says:

          Re: Effects
          Even if the movie did have some visual minor effects in it, the point is that they’re not significant enough to be worth grading. So if this movie was given a perfect 6 because the very limited effects were invisible, how would you then rate the effects of a movie like Superman Returns?

          I know this is verging on redundant given that the vast majority of movies reviewed on b42 have significant effects content, but I still thought it was worth mentioning. I’m currently trying to think of SF/F movies with essentially no effects, and the only one that came to mind was Primer. Any more?

          • Timeshredder says:

            Re: Effects

            Even if the movie did have some visual minor effects in it, the point is that they’re not significant enough to be worth grading. So if this movie was given a perfect 6 because the very limited effects were invisible, how would you then rate the effects of a movie like Superman Returns?

            For the time being, I’ve compromised and given it a "5" to recognize Fiz’s comment, but also in recognition of the fact that the film has no significant F/X.

            Of course, the final score really isn’t the point. Even with the original score, my regard for the film is obvious, and any standardized scoring will only be so useful. Some films, Enid-like, won’t quite fit.

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