Tim Tan Huynh

Ghost World

  • 30 Dec 2016
  • This early-2000s indie movie is an adaptation of a late-1990s graphic novel. It's a timeless story about teen angst and tenuous friendship.
Ghost World poster
The poster for Ghost World features the tagline, “Accentuate the negative.” It relies on the viewer being familiar with the phrase, “Accentuate the positive,” which is the name of an old song.

Ghost World is a movie that I love. It’s a combination of The Catcher in the Rye and Daria. That is, it follows two angsty and cynical teenaged girls who are on the verge of adulthood. Said girls are Enid and Rebecca, played by Thora Birch and Scarlett Johansson, respectively. The movie is an adaptation of a graphic novel by Daniel Clowes, who is a co-writer with director Terry Zwigoff.

Both leads are former child actors, although their careers have had opposite trajectories. Thora hasn’t starred in anything notable since Ghost World, whereas Scarlett is the highest-grossing actor of 2016. Both women are believable as lifelong friends who drift apart high school. In today’s lexicon, which this story pre-dates, Enid is an emo Holden Caulfield and Rebecca is her hipster foil.

I was infatuated with Scarlett after watching the movie 15 years ago. She’s still captivating, but Thora is captivating too. The supporting actors are great as well. Steve Buscemi plays the pitiful Seymour, and the late Brad Renfro plays the reluctant Josh. Besides Scarlett and Buscemi, none of the cast members are household names. I recognize three others for their guest roles on Entourage, though.

I own a DVD copy, but I’ve now watched the movie in HD. The cinematography is more functional than anything; the world is bland in the view of Enid and Rebecca. I have noticed some interesting things during this viewing. The banner at the graduation ceremony, for example, has logos for real brands of junk food. Later at the banquet, Rebecca tries to answer her smitten classmate before Enid answers for both of them.

I haven’t read the graphic novel, but I’ll read it, some day. I wonder if it’ll be more clear about the fate of Enid, whose decision at the end of the movie is open to interpretation. I view it as being more hopeful than sad, but I understand why some people view the latter. In any case, Enid’s cycle of self-sabotage, which includes taking Rebecca for granted, is endearing in its tragedy. The movie is still entertaining because of its irreverent humor.

Besides its stars and story, I appreciate Ghost World for introducing me to Delta blues and to a funny character.