NOTE: The original rating for this film was ***1/2, but after a second viewing and careful consideration, the rating has been bumped up to ****.
The so-called "teen movies" offered in recent years have been of a dull and empty variation. The basic formula usually includes the geek who gets the girl/guy, the nasty popular kids, the jocks, the unlikely couple and more uses of the word "like" than any normal person is able to tolerate. What a rare treat it is that in the middle of the season usually full of teen movie trash that we had "Ghost World", a film that remembers that not everybody fits into easily accessible categories (adults and teens alike).
Thora Birch is Enid, a high school grad unsure of what to do with the rest of her life. She thinks she will rent an apartment with her best friend Rebecca (Scarlett Johansson), but with no job and summer school (for flunking art), nothing is certain. In a similar spot is Seymour (Steve Buschemi), a record collector who can't see any real meaning to his actions. Enid and Rebecca play a seemingly harmless prank on him after seeing a classified ad he put in the paper. Quite to the surprise of the duo, this little stunt really hurts Seymour. Guilty, Enid feels obligated to hook him up with the girl he was looking for in the ad.
What is remarkable about "Ghost World" is not that it is more entertaining than your average teen entertainment. No, what strikes me about "Ghost World" is how astutely it remembers the feeling of displacement that plagues so many teens. Enid doesn't seem to have many friends who respect her, and as cynical as she may get, human contact is the obvious ingredient missing in her life, even though she is constantly pushing it away. Rebecca urges her to get a job, so she gets a job working at a concession stand in a multiplex. That same day, she's fired for too many wise remarks about the theater and it's customers. Enid doesn't feel the need to "fit in", instead she sees the whole world collapsing around her and would rather observe and snicker than get away from the problem. She tries to move on with her life, yet everyone around her is trying to keep her grounded. Thora Birch seems more alive as Enid than in any other of her roles. In "American Beauty", she played a similar character, but I was less than convinced with her portrayal, mostly consisting of pouting. In "Ghost World", it is like she has woken up, and really works as Enid. Her chemistry with the other actors ranges from comfortable to repellent as the story requires.
Seymour is just as miserable as Enid. He collects all kinds of junk- from jazz records to old posters from the fast-food company he works for. He wishes he could have a more rewarding career and a more exciting life. "I hate my intrests", he remarks. Where Enid is a little more honest and will say anything that comes to her mind, Seymour builds a shield against pain with his collections and obsessions and rarely takes a chance. Enid does not care about the consequences; Seymour is constantly running away from them. Steve Buschemi is wonderful in this role. He does what an actor should as he doesn't overact but really gets into the character and inhabits him. As we watch him, we feel just like a picture Enid draws in her sketchbook: "Go Seymour!" We want him to get the girl, to succeed and live happily ever after. Unfortunately, his own self-pity comes back to haunt him when he realizes he has nothing in common with the woman of his dreams.
In the end, Enid is off to create a world of her own, while Seymour is left behind back where he started. He does have his experiences with Enid, but how far does that really take him? We will never find out, but we are sure that he will start to come into his own; we now have gained confidence in him. The film has that personal touch that most films lack. Coming from Terry Zwigoff, a man who threatened to commit suicide if the subject for a documentary he was making didn't cooperate ("Crumb"), it's easy to see why the film is so accurate in its portrayal of emotional emptiness. "Ghost World" has so many strengths to deem it one of the best films of the year. And as much as some would like to disagree, it is not a teen movie in any way, shape or form.