The Daily Tar Heel

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Saturday September 18th

`World' Adapts Pain, Humor of Comic Book


I used to worry that some people never really recover from adolescence. After seeing "Ghost World," I realize I'm not alone in this opinion.

A new film by Terry Zwigoff and Daniel Clowes, "Ghost World" explores the fierce friendship between two war-wounded high school graduates, Enid (Thora Birch) and Becky (Scarlett Johansson). Enid and Becky bond over their mutual awkwardness and disgust at almost everyone around them.

Enid, with a slash of black hair, huge glasses and boots, embodies anyone who ever felt weird and therefore just wanted to act weirder. As she lashes out against everything in her most commercialized of sickly commercial suburbs, it's both painful and hilarious.

Based on a 1998 comic book by Clowes, the movie alludes to the lonely empowerment of the comic artist through Enid's sketchbook diary. You get the feeling that Clowes is still milking old insecurities for artistic subject matter, and it's interesting that he so skillfully projects his own insecurities into female characters.

But unlike Clowes' original book, Zwigoff has brought in a new character.

Seymour (Steve Buscemi) is a mushroom-flavored 40-ish man who lives with a sloppy roommate and a consolingly large collection of old records. After taking interest in him as a study in the pathetic, Enid grows to care for Seymour.

As she tries to help him socially, we see that what Enid is really trying to accomplish is her own self-preservation. She tells him, "I can't bear to live in a world where people like you can't get a date."

But the world she is actually living in is crumbling around her. She has failed a remedial art class, can't stand her father's girlfriend and keeps losing her jobs.

To top it off, her one constant high school ally, Becky, is just enough prettier and just enough farther on the conventional track to success with her corporate coffee shop job to be drifting off on a different arc.

What's left for Enid is her growing but ambivalent love interest in Seymour, taking the original tale off toward a half-disturbing, half-consoling story of the camaraderie of two people who feel like freaks.

In many ways, Zwigoff and Clowes' movie is brilliant -- brilliant in the way that only two people, who themselves are still soothing the wounds of adolescence with geeky collections, could create.

"Ghost World" manages to recapture the worn-out defensive technique of sarcasm, and in Birch and Johansson's hands, its monotone deliveries are witheringly funny.

In fact, the movie's strength is its moments of absolute hilarity. There's the man with a mullet and nunchucks who harasses the local quickie mart. And there's the wonderful critique of self-explorative art through the ridiculous high school art teacher.

But most funny and most sad parts are moments such as when Enid, crying on her bed, tells her father, "It's nothing. It's some hormonal thing."

Perhaps the movie's biggest flaw is that Zwigoff and Clowes take the easy way out in the end.

Of course, there's an old man waiting for a bus that never comes. Of course, one day he finally leaves. Of course, Enid finally gets on that same bus. It is the ending that one uses when another ending can't be found, and it ties things up too cleanly and simply.

But if for nothing else, "Ghost World" is worth it for the moments of finely observed detail. These sharp, funny insights are some of the poignant and truest of any recent movie.

The Arts & Entertainment Editor can be reached at artsdesk@unc.edu.

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