Hating it all

Discovering that (yes, kids) there is life after high school.

Aug 22, 2001 at 12:00 am

Enid (Thora Birch) doesn’t love the modern world. Neither does writer-director Terry Zwigoff (Crumb), and the cranky synergy of lead character and filmmaker provides this comic celebration of discontentment with its disarming charm.

As articulate as she is dissatisfied, Enid finds nearly everything and everyone subject for scorn, and with her equally cynical best friend Rebecca (Scarlett Johansson) there for support, she turns her scorn into a kind of game. On the one hand, Enid is the classic outcast as snob, derisively dismissing a social structure and commercial culture that rejected her long ago. But Enid is not just clever, she’s intelligent, and during the emotionally turbulent summer after high school, she also becomes self-aware enough to understand that a person is defined as much by what they are as by what they’re not.

Ghost World, which is based on a comic book by Daniel Clowes (he co-wrote the screenplay with Zwigoff), has the shambling quality of a life lived with much attitude, but little purpose. Enid records her observations in a notebook filled with sharp, insightful drawings (actually done by Sophie Crumb), but finds her artistic contributions dismissed as immature cartoons by the self-involved art teacher (the delightfully daffy Illeana Douglas) whose summer class she has to pass to earn her diploma. Meanwhile, Rebecca has slowly drifted off into comfortable capitalism, getting a job at Starbucks and shopping for nesting supplies for the apartment they plan to rent together.

Frustrated that she’s lost her co-conspirator, Enid begins to focus on Seymour (Steve Buscemi), a misanthropic corporate drone whose life revolves around his embrace of low-tech culture. He collects rare 78s (fragile, pre-33 rpm records), particularly those which feature stripped-down, emotionally stark country blues. Seymour fascinates Enid, who sees him not just as an intrepid collector of the best of the past (not unlike her own vintage wardrobe), but as a brave keeper of the flame. Seymour’s frank assessment of his own life — cushioning himself with things to avoid people — leads Enid to spice up his love life. But like most projects she undertakes that summer, she’s unhappy with the results.

With teenage rebellion long ago co-opted by corporate interests (wear these jeans and be a nonconformist like everyone else!), it’s hard enough to be an adolescent individual, let alone see a real one portrayed on a movie screen. But Zwigoff has found his in the sullen, pouty, deadly funny Thora Birch (American Beauty), who in these days of uniformly thin, increasingly generic teens flashing their navels in bland displays of eroticism, actually looks like a real girl, one with her own distinct beauty.

The sharp, funny and poignant Ghost World is a rare teen film, one which exalts creativity and imagination, yet also embraces the harsh reality that just because you’re smart doesn’t mean you have all the answers.

Opens Friday exclusively at the Main Art Theatre (118 N. Main, Royal Oak). Call 248-542-0180.

Visit the official Ghost World Web site at www.mgm.com/ghostworld.

Serena Donadoni writes about film for Metro Times. E-mail her at [email protected].