Comic book adaptations are everywhere these days, but it’s still rare to see more adult comic material tackled. Road to Perdition was based on Max Allan Collins and Richard Piers Rayner’s graphic novel, but there is a whole movement of independent comics – think Hate or Love & Rockets – yet to be tackled by film-makers. One exception is Daniel Clowes' Ghost World, which originally appeared within the pages of his Eightball book, and proves a faithful adaptation that stands on its own merits.
Enid (Thora Birch) and Rebecca (Scarlett Johansson) are two 18-year-old girls, who enter the summer after graduating high school with few plans for their future apart from finding part-time jobs and getting a flat together. The girls, in particular Enid, look scornfully upon their peers and their fashion-driven, shallow interests. After playing a cruel prank on him, Enid finds herself drawn towards middle-aged, record-obsessed bachelor Seymour (Steve Buscemi) and sets out to find him a girlfriend.
Ghost World is slow and while ostensively a comedy, isn’t exactly a laugh-riot. It’s about not fitting in – Enid dresses in wildly colourful, outlandish ways, dyes her hair and would rather spend her days with a insular, borderline-depressive man more than twice her age than her own peer-group. And yet her refusal to join the in-crowd hardly makes her happy, and the confidence she exudes masks a genuine teenage insecurity. Enid’s sometimes abrasve, straight-forward manner (and Thora Birch’s subtle, dynamic performance) suggest a character a decade older than she actually she is – it’s almost a shock to see her acting exactly like a teenage girl should, bawling her eyes on her bed after a blazing row with Rebecca.
Seymour’s the opposite – he wears his heart completely on his sleeve, which invariably leads him to heartbreak and disappointment. Despite announcing her intention to get him a girlfriend, Enid cannot take it when he finally does find someone, and a real chance of companionship is ruined when she jealously sleeps with Seymour, declaring drunkenly that she plans to move in with him. Seymour actually believes her and dumps his new lady the next day, but the truth is that while more than "amusingly cranky eccentric curiosity" to her (as Seymour believes), their relationship could really never be anything more than an unusual friendship. The ever-reliable Steve Buscemi gives one his best performances – crumpled and pathetic, and barely containing a bubbling anger at the sorry state he feels his life has become.
There are a variety of interesting secondary characters, some taken from the pages of Clowes’ comic, others created for the film. Illeana Douglas’ deeply pretentious art teacher, despite Enid’s initial scorn for her, offers her way out of her small-town rut, while Josh (Brad Renfro) is Enid and Rebecca’s only other friend of their age and the unknowing subject of Enid’s affections. Director Terry Zwigoff creates a convincing comic book look with bold colours, knowing, witty dialogue and the occasional surreal touch, and at nearly two hours, the film takes its time to reach its conclusion. This ending proves somewhat ambiguous and those looking for a neat, conclusive wrap-up may leave disappointed. Nevertheless, Ghost World is a quietly moving, darkly funny film, and proves to be that rare thing – a teen movie whose young characters act and talk like teenagers, not like their adult creators think they behave.
American director who worked in a wide variety of menial jobs before directing his first feature, the blues documentary Louie Bluie in 1986. Another documentary, Crumb (1994), was a moving portrait of subversive comic book artist Robert Crumb that won great acclaim, as did his adaptation of Daniel Clowes’ comic Ghost World and the subversive Christmas comedy Bad Santa. He worked again with Clowes to adapt the mocking Art School Confidential.