Ghost World at 20: the comic book movie that refused to comply | Movies

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IIn the 20 years since the release of Ghost World, nerd culture has become a mainstream culture, transforming a term once associated with dweeby outcasts of ’80s comedies into a shorthand almost anyone can apply on their own. Now you’re a nerd for having seen Ant-Man and the Wasp on opening day. In truth, the term still didn’t make sense, whether it applied to pitiful morons with goggles and pocket protectors stuck together or the hordes that scramble Hall H at ComicCon every year, exhilarating on the greatest movies on the planet. True nerds are completely exiled from the culture – few people want to hang out with them, let alone pay to see them onscreen.

And so despite great reviews, superb performances, and abundant insight into the lives of these insane misfits, Ghost World was not a hit in 2001, but has a cult following, which is perhaps the fitting fate for it. a film that clings to the arcana. Based on the Daniel Clowes comic book and directed by Terry Zwigoff, who co-wrote the screenplay with Clowes, the film clearly loves these salty misanthropes and brings audiences into the private spaces where they dance to Bollywood acts from the 60s. or choose the blues of the 30s. rarities on 78, with their splinters and their cracks and their evocative chains. But Clowes and Zwigoff have the integrity to allow their characters to be off-putting or cruel, and to make the kinds of terrible mistakes that account for their loneliness.

Take the very first scene with BFFs Enid (Thora Birch) and Rebecca (Scarlett Johansson) rolling their eyes through a high school graduation farewell speech. “High school is like the training wheels for real life cycling” is a nod to an opening line, of course, but the speaker is wearing a helmet from a near fatal accident due to the ‘drug and alcohol abuse and they can’ I can’t stand to see her turn this experience into lame inspiring bromides. “I liked her so much better when she was an alcoholic and a crack addict,” Enid sniffs. She instinctively chooses the meanest thing she can think of to say. It is both a weapon and a defensive mechanism.

For starters, Ghost World talks about how this bike analogy stinks. Enid and Rebecca haven’t even looked at their bikes in four years, let alone learned how to ride them, and the difficult question they face, “What are you going to do now?” », Leaves two basic options: to comply or not. . It’s heartbreaking for Enid to learn, over the course of the film, that she and Rebecca don’t share the same answer to this question. When they meet Seymour (Steve Buscemi), a middle-aged record collector with a shabby shared apartment and no romantic outlook, it’s like a visit from the future maverick ghost. Rebecca recoils in horror. Enid is intrigued. “He’s the exact opposite of everything I hate.

Seymour was Zwigoff’s creation, not the comic book’s, and the two share the same musical obsessions and probably a lot of other qualities as well. At first he is the butt of a prank Enid and Rebecca decide to pull out a dating list they find particularly pathetic, one where a man searches for a woman for a “moment” that he probably imagines. When Seymour arrives in Wowsville, a fake 1950s eatery that they take pleasure in despising, the two have a noticeably different reaction: Rebecca laughs at that sad little moron in the dingy green waistcoat, but Enid is struck by the flippancy with which he accepts this humiliation. He expected something like this to happen.

For guys like Seymour – and for future Seymours like Enid – the world has a way of asserting your less charitable evaluations. Or maybe these assessments become a self-fulfilling prophecy. The main difference between Seymour and Enid is that Enid is not old enough to realize that she has to participate, even wearily, in a society that rejects her, which means that she cannot afford to get fired from a low-paying job. on day one and she may not find a romantic partner who shares her strange interests. And she learns, over the course of the film, that Rebecca is a conformist at heart, perhaps drawn to the gravitational pull of Enid’s sarcasm in high school, but now showing an interest in conventional guys and dinnerware sets from women. department stores that could fit into his new apartment. Enid takes the difficult road – and, in the final moments of the film, perhaps a road that leads to oblivion.

Photograph: Tracy Bennett / AP

As a comic book movie, Ghost World is subtly extraordinary, rejecting both the cute framing of life as a comic book from a movie like American Splendor two years later and the smoothness of the blockbusters to come. There are sequences that look like a succession of highly detailed panels, like the opening of “Jaan Pechechaan Ho,” which looks at the strange lives of people in Enid’s square apartment complex before seeing her dance. in her graduation gown. But Zwigoff, whose only previous credits were the brilliant documentaries Louie Bluie and Crumb, isn’t inclined towards flashy artistic demonstrations. He and Clowes are convinced that the types of vignettes that make up the Clowes comics – quirky, biting, and funny, with ever-so-slightly-elevated realism – will not only be cohesive on screen, but will have the same graphic vividness.

It might be Enid’s world, but there are worlds within worlds in Ghost World, each a short story in itself, much like these apartments in the opening sequence. And everywhere you look, there’s something provocative or fun or artfully observed: a remedial art class led by a teacher (Ileana Douglas) that favors a ‘confrontational’ display of tampons in a cup. on Enid’s impulse to draw an illustration of Don Knotts; a store called Masterpiece Video where “every movie is a masterpiece,” but no one knows the difference between Fellini’s 8 1/2 and 9 1/2 weeks; a garage sale where Enid refuses to sell her old stuff to uncool passers-by or the prices too high, like $ 500 for the dress in which she claims to have lost her virginity.

The film is done in detail. Sometimes it’s in the details of the performance, like Birch’s Enid wordlessly realizing that Seymour is a soul mate or the way Buscemi suggests Seymour knows his pedantry about the difference between blues and ragtime kills his chances with a potential partner, but he can not help doing it. Sometimes it’s a piece of clothing, like Seymour’s cardigans or Enid’s tongue-in-cheek T-shirts. Zwigoff and Clowes aren’t above a simple fart joke at the right time, either. In the context of Ghost World, even a fart can be existentially revealing.


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