Terry Zwigoff’s small film Ghost World is an excellent character study of alienation, fear and acceptance.
Enid (Thora Birch), a recent high school grad doesn’t know what to do with her life: should she pursue an artistic career which she desires, yet does not want to work for? Or should she just enjoy her life by just living it day-to-day and hanging around and making fun of her hometown and its inhabitants. Constantly critiquing everything around them, Enid and her best friend Becky, (Scarlett Johansson), find their biggest challenge is trying to decide what is “cool” and what isn’t.
Becky finds a job at a coffee shop, and pushes Enid to get one so they can move out together. Enid works at a movie theatre and a computer store but quits both. Her sarcastic personality will not allow her to adapt to the working world.
One day, they find a newspaper, which includes personal ads. As a joke, they respond to an ad placed by Seymour (Steve Buscemi) and watch from a distance as he waits for his date in vain. But to her dismay, Enid discovers she actually feels bad about teasing him.
Seymour, a record-collecting social misfit is an easy target for the two girls. After stumbling upon his weekly rummage sale, Enid discovers to her surprise that he is not the loser he appears to be, but in fact is actually an interesting guy, “He’s the exact opposite of everything I hate. In a way, he’s such a clueless dork, he’s almost kind of cool.”
Enid and Seymour have much in common, including a shared feeling of not fitting in with the world around them. Enid tries hard to find Seymour a date, but he is so far removed from the dating scene, it does not work. Meanwhile, their own relationship grows stronger as the two spend more time together. At the same time, Enid and Becky’s friendship wanes. This film treats relationships as they are: multileveled, constantly evolving and confusing.
There are some great performances here. Thora Birch’s performances as the sarcastic Enid is right on target. Bob Balaban, as Enid’s meek father does not know how to relate to his daughter. His performance is reminiscent of Jim Backus’ performance with son James Dean in Rebel Without A Cause. Ileana Douglas plays Enid’s summer school art teacher who has many grandiose thoughts on art. And the fact that Steve Buscemi was not nominated for Best Supporting Actor is yet another blemish on this year’s Oscars.