Plot: What’s it about?
Enid (Thora Birch) and Becky (Scarlett Johansson) might argue all the time, but they’re still best friends and as close as possible, without being lesbians, of course. Both Enid and Becky have grown tired of people in general, all the image building, false personas, and forced coolness are too much. But they still love to watch people and gossip together, as to who is a loser, who is a freak, and who is a fake, in between sharing memories of the past. The girls have never even considered leaving the area or each other, but now that high school is over, some rifts have started to undermine their friendship. Although Becky had no idea until recently, Enid is thinking about going to school at a distant college, which would mean serious changes. But this summer is still going to be fun, as they decide to mess with everyone around them, from their old schoolmates to total strangers to whomever they wish to prey upon. The newest target is Seymour (Steve Buscemi), a lonely middle aged man who the girls pull a cruel prank upon. At the same as that events begins to take form, both girls realize their crushes on Josh (Brad Renfro), although neither would ever admit the truth to each other, no matter what.
I had some doubts about how well Daniel Clowes’ Ghost World would translate to the screen, but it seems like the pieces fell into place in the end. The excellent cast is well chosen and performs to great ends, especially Steve Buscemi, Thora Birch, and Scarlett Johansson, who simply shine in their respective roles. In addition, director Terry Zwigoff (Crumb) appears to have been the right choice also, as the direction is superb and the theme remains on the mark, in terms of staying close to the roots of the material. Just as in the comic book, the characters, dialogue, and situations seem a little odd at times, but natural and believable, which is crucial here. I have to admit that I still prefer the comic adaptation, but the film has a limited amount of time and as such, I can forgive how some elements are glossed over, mainly the Becky character’s lack of presence at times. Even so, Ghost World is a fun and very memorable motion picture, worth a look to just to hear the great dialogue and witness some terrific performances. MGM’s disc is more than up to par also, which means without hesitation, I can give this release a very high recommendation.
I’ve always been a massive fan of Steve Buscemi, but he is usually given smaller roles, ones to help flesh out a supporting cast of players. In these small roles however, Buscemi always manages to steal a number of scenes and remain memorable, so even with limited screen time, he can rack up a great performance. While Buscemi is not the central focus of Ghost World either, he is granted a larger portion of screen time than usual and he proves he deserves the spotlight, by giving perhaps his finest turn to date. As usual, he plays an outcast of sorts and does so very well, this time being able to be more likable, as opposed to freakish. Let’s hope this marks the start of a series of larger roles for Buscemi, as he could certainly handle the tasks. Other films with Buscemi include Armageddon, Con Air, Living in Oblivion, Reservoir Dogs, and of course, Ed and his Dead Mother. The cast also includes Thora Birch (American Beauty, The Smokers), Scarlet Johansson (Just Cause, Home Alone 3), Brad Renfro (The Client, Tom and Huck), and Illeana Douglas (Grace of My Heart, Happy Texas).
Video: How does it look?
Criterion, in typical form, has given this a new 4K restoration under the direct supervision of director Terry Zwigoff. The result is nothing short of phenomenol. Given the low budget nature of this film, the MGM DVD was always lacking. But the bold color scheme is in full effect, with rich hues and nary a stray color streak to be seen, while flesh tones remain natural and consistent. No issues on the front of contrast either, as black levels are dead to rights and never falter, leaving behind stark shadows and a high level of detail at all times. Ghost World marks another excellent treatment and is certainly another jewel in Criterion’s crown.
Audio: How does it sound?
This is a dialogue driven movie, though music plays a part in a few sequences. The new DTS HD Master Audio mix ups the ante a bit and it’s noticeably better than the previous Dolby Digital 5.1 track. The surrounds are reserved for some ambient effects and the musical soundtrack, but that works out well, given the nature of the material. The main focus is on the vocals, which come through with flying colors, with accurate volume balance and a crisp overall sound throughout. So no, this won’t be a demo level audio track, but as far as the material goes, it is more than up to snuff.
Supplements: What are the extras?
- Audio Commentary – Writer/director Terry Zwigoff as well as creator of the comic Daniel Clowes, and producer Lianne Halfon participate in a screen specific commentary. This is a new addition to this disc recorded exclusively for Criterion in 2017.
- Art as Dialogue – Thora Birch, Scarlett Johansson, and Illeana Douglass are particularly chatty in this new documentary. Some information about the shoot, the success of the film and its adaptation from the comic are also explored.
- Deleted Scenes – Ten minutes’ worth, though none are too particularly engaging.
- “Jaan Pehechaah Ho” – Some scenes from Gumnaam (The Unknown) feature this song “Jaan Pehechaah Ho”. Running at six minutes, this is available with or without audio commentary
- Theatrical Trailer
- Illustrated Booklet – Film critic Howard Hampton lens his insight into the film in the included booklet.
The Bottom Line
This is one of those movies that’s gained cult status over the years and while I was once kind of annoyed with it, I now revere it (never let it be said that age doesn’t affect judgment). This was an interesting choice by Criterion and they’ve done a fantastic job on it as usual. Improved video and audio as well as new supplements only add to the allure of this amazing disc. Put it in your collection.