It's a complaint that I've often made; Hollywood pictures are too often defined by past formulas and are made up of characters that aren't realistic - they just follow the mechanics of the plot. Interestingly enough, the funniest, most real and interesting picture that I've seen in a while is based on a comic book. While most "comic book" adaptations to the screen involve special effects, "Ghost World", based on the comic book by Daniel Clowes (who co-wrote the screenplay adaptation with Zwigoff), does a terrific job at creating great characters and offering strong dialogue. It's also from director Terry Zwigoff, previously known for his documentary of legendary artist R. Crumb.
The film revolves around two girls who have just graduated high school, Enid and Rebecca (Thora Birch and Scarlett Johansson). Much like many who have become tired of the constant daily routine of high school, they are content to simply poke fun at those they consider to be lesser than themselves, including a waitor at a 50's diner, a teen store clerk (Brad Renfro), Enid's father (Bob Balaban) and others. It's the Summer after high school and neither want to go to college, but neither actually want to join the real world and get jobs in an office.
One day, they decide to play a joke on someone and the personal ads are in front of them, so they look up a guy who placed one of the ads, Seymour (Steve Buscemi). The two see him and follow him back to where he lives, where they find out that he's selling his items on a weekly basis in front of his apartment. They originally think he's a dork, but Enid sees something similar in his spirit. She tries to play matchmaker and find him a date, but it takes a while before things begin to work out for him, but not for her.
One of the best elements of "Ghost World" is its atmosphere. The look of the small town or suburb in which the girls live is timeless and, at the same time, an ordinary Everytown, USA. The script - by Zwigoff and Clowes, is simply marvelous, with an almost endless amount of intelligent one-liners and character details. The scene where Enid starts working at a movie theater is one of the most hilarious moments I've seen in film all year. This is Zwigoff's first fiction film and he really has made the transition between documentary filmmaker and fictional filmmaker quite well. The performances in this picture are stellar; Birch, Johansson and Buscemi are perfectly cast and do their very best. Enid and Rebecca are rather mean-spirited with their comments, but they are sympathetic in the way that the two actresses reveal the underlying feelings that the characters have of that aimless period between high school and college where many people this age really don't want to be like everyone else, but they don't know what they want, either.
The film could have gone for what most comedies today do - to humiliate the main characters and get a cheap laugh. "Ghost World" has the utmost respect for its characters and, as a result, I cared about what happened to them, as well. It's a pleasure to see a comedy that's as enjoyably original as "Ghost World" - a smart, funny and bittersweet picture that's really one of the best of 2001. Note: stay after the credits for a very funny outtake.
VIDEO: MGM presents "Ghost World" in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. The picture quality is not quite perfect, but it represents probably one of MGM's best efforts visually that I've seen in a while. While not a slick looking picture, there obviously was a lot of work put into the details on the look and sets of the picture. Sharpness and detail are very good, as the picture remained crisp and well-defined throughout the film.
Only a few minor print flaws were seen throughout the picture - a tiny speck here and there was about it. Pixelation and edge enhancement were not seen, either. Colors looked quite well-rendered, with no smearing or other problems. Flesh tones remained accurate throughout, while black level was solid, as well.
SOUND: "Ghost World" is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1. The film's sound presentation remained slightly better than I'd expected for an independent and mostly dialogue-driven feature. The surrounds do kick in appropriately throughout the picture for small, ambient details that give a nice sense of envelopment without being too noticable. The wonderful score remained crisp and warm throughout, while all of the dialogue came through clearly.
MENUS: The main menu is slightly animated, with some clips from the film playing in the backgrounds. The main and sub-menus are set-up in comic book style.
EXTRAS: 4 deleted scenes; trailers for "Ghost World", "Terminator: SE DVD" and "Princess Bride SE DVD"; a short "making of" featurette and music video.
Final Thoughts: "Ghost World" is a refreshing picture that respects its characters, offers intelligent dialogue and provides a number of darkly hilarious one-liners. MGM's DVD doesn't provide as many supplements as I'd like to see regarding a film like this one, but it does provide good audio/video and a few extras.