Tim Tan Huynh

Ghost World

  • 30 Dec 2016
  • This early-2000s indie movie is an adaptation of a late-1990s graphic novel that has a timeless story about teen angst and tenuous friendship.

Ghost World is another movie that I love. It’s basically a combination of The Catcher in the Rye and Daria; this coming-of-age story focuses on two angsty and cynical teenaged girls. The movie is an adaptation of a graphic novel by Daniel Clowes, and the girls are Enid Coleslaw and Rebecca Doppelmeyer. Thora Birch and Scarlett Johansson play Enid and Rebecca, respectively, though their characters’ last names aren’t listed or mentioned.

Both ladies are former child actors, though their careers have had opposite trajectories since Ghost World. Thora hasn’t starred in any notable movies, whereas Scarlett has recently been named as the highest-grossing actor of 2016. Both women are believable in their roles as lifelong friends who drift apart soon after they graduate from high school: Enid is an emo Holden Caulfield and Rebecca is her hipster foil before “emo” and “hipster” are things.

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

I own a DVD copy, but I’ve recently watched the movie in HD for the first time. The cinematography is more functional than anything because the unnamed city is supposed to be bland. I have noticed some interesting things that I hadn’t noticed in the past. The graduation banner has logos for real-life brands of junk food, and at the banquet, Rebecca tries to answer her smitten classmate before Enid reflexively answers for both of them.

I haven’t read the graphic novel, but I’ll read it, eventually. I wonder if it will be more clear about the fate of Enid, whose decision at the end of the movie can be interpreted as being hopeful or sad. In any case, Enid’s cycle of self-sabotage, which includes taking Rebecca for granted, is endearingly tragic. The movie has irreverent humor and obscure culture to be entertaining despite showing an era when smartphones and social media don’t exist.

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