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Empire Magazine Greatest Movies List - #266: Ghost World

Filmmaker Terry Swigoff has so far only five movies, which at first glance may seem difficult to pin down. He gave the world Crumb, the fascinating documentary about underground cartoonist Robert Crumb and also Bad Santa, the 2003 hillarious comedy about a drunken mall Santa played by Billy Bob Thornton. He also directed Ghost World (2001), a much tamer comedy about two teenage outsiders. Definitely not as gut-busting funny as Bad Santa, but definitely worth seeing if only for seeing Steve Buscemi as a reclusive records collector.

This one I first saw while doing a 2009 summer session at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver. Having some time to kill one evening, I was browsing iTunes and thought I would check another cult movie off my to-watch list. Bad Santa is one of my favourite Christmas movies and Steve Buscemi is one of my favourite actors so I thought this has to be good. The tone of the movie and the characters were unexpectedly cynical and Buscemi is more introverted, but this is definitely a very real movie that deserves its cult status.

Thora Birch stars as Enid Coleslaw, a recent high school graduate who is very unimpressed with her fellow classmates. She sees most boys her age as immature idiots and does not think much of the adults in her life either. Her best friend Rebecca (Scarlett Johansson) is also a social outcast except her looks make her more popular with the guys. As summer begins they both have to think about the realities such as getting a job and moving out of their parents’ houses.

Before reality hits them, they take time to perform a prank after seeing an ad in the newspaper about a man called Seymour (Steve Buscemi) looking for a woman he recently met. Enid calls Seymour and invites him to a restaurant so that she and Rebecca can watch him sit by himself and waste his time. It’s pretty harmless and meaningless prank, but Enid feels sorry for the guy and decides to follow him to his apartment building. Enid and Rebecca officially meet Seymour while he is selling old Blues album at a garage sale and Enid forms a tentative friendship seeing a fellow outsider in Seymour.

As summer winds down the relationships are tested. Enid and Seymour bond further as Seymour provides help for her remedial art class, while Enid tries to set Seymour up with a date. Rebecca on the other hand finds a job to pay the rent, spends her money on clothing, and is more interested in spending time with boys her own age. The relationship between Seymour and Enid is heading towards a standstill and like many high school friends Rebecca is also drifting into a different circle.

The place where these characters live is never named, but it doesn’t need to be. Enid loves to be around people who are weird or bizarre and there are plenty of those around in Ghost World, but look around and you will surely find people like that around where you live.

Seymour definitely qualifies as a high-strung record collector who is overwhelmed by this new person in his life. A lonely guy who has trouble getting through an average day, this is Buscemi proving he can do more than play a weird supporting character among an all-star cast. Enid and Rebecca initially see him as just another loser they mock, but Enid eventually realizes there is a real person there.

Spewing sarcastic comments every other sentence, Enid is a character who is most comfortable inside her head and who love to punch superficial people right in the face. Unfortunately for her, as Rebecca grows up she begins to embrace a more superficial lifestyle leaving her best friend behind.

In a case of life imitating art, years after Ghost World came out Scarlett Johansson is one of the biggest movie stars in the world appearing in very commercial movies, whereas Birch has appeared in mostly low-budget movies. Buscemi on the other hand is finally getting his due in HBO’s Boardwalk Empire.

A sequel would be fascinating just to see where the characters they each play ended up ten years later. 


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