A quirky, affectionate, funny and poignant look at the outsiders and margin-dwellers, and easily one of the best movies about teenagers and coming-of-age. I almost wish I had first watched it when I was younger myself and much closer to my own memories as a highschool outsider, as it would have been interesting to compare my reaction to it then as opposed to now that I’m older.
Enid (Thora Birch) and Becky (Scarlett Johansson) are two besties who just graduated highschool, and it’s obvious that what unites them the most is their shared scorn for pretty much the rest of their world, which they see as small-minded, stupid and artificial. Even so, it’s clear that of the two, Enid is the true outsider, with her near-gothic look, interest in thrift shops and obscurities, and a mocking, acerbic sense of humour.
One day she and Becky, in a true cruel teenage style, decide to play a fake date prank on Seymour (Steve Buscemi), an older man who’s posted a personal ad seeking a woman he’s met but never got a number of. At first they laugh at him, but once Enid meets Seymour face-to-face she unexpectedly likes him and recognizes a kindred soul in this sad loner who lives in his own sealed-off world of antique records and old advertising art. Seymour is both unapologetically odd and blunt and yet aware that his obsessive hobbies mask the lack of real human connections in his life. Meanwhile, Becky shows alarming signs of wanting a normal life, like getting a real job and finding her own apartment, and she shows less and less tolerance for Enid’s sneery attitude.
I think it would have been really easy to just see Enid as an outcast hero who rebels against the conformity etc. etc., but in fact while she’s genuinely smart and it’s hilarious to see her cut through the world’s bullshit and stupidity, her intelligence and cynicism are also the means for Enid to feel smugly superior, and she is terribly self-absorbed in the way many teenagers are. It’s funny that, as I get older, I seem to have much more sympathy for the adults in the teenage movies, and it’s hard to avoid the fact that Enid is a massive pain in the ass to the people who, despite their faults, seem to genuinely want to help her out. She’s a very real, very flawed character and it’s a pity that Birch’s career never really went anywhere after her early success here and in American Beauty. Buscemi is also wonderful here – Seymour could have come off as a rather creepy character who has a weird relationship with a much younger girl, but there’s such sweetness to him and his bond with Enid (I honestly never thought I’d use “sweetness” and “Steve Buscemi” in the same sentence).
Ghost World is also full of colourful offbeat side characters, my favourite being Enid’s hippy art teacher who is fixated on art about Important Issues. It’s a smart, brilliantly observed movie that mixes melancholia with humour, and as a lover of quirky vintage fashions and collectibles I found it especially appealing.