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Ghost World
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Length:1h 51mins
Cast:Terry Zwigoff, Thora Birch, Scarlett Johansson, Brad Renfro

Director Terry Zwigoff's bitingly humorous Ghost World successfully nails several brands of droll despair with its lustrous lull and gloom. Written by Zwigoff and Daniel Clowes, author of the same-named comic-book serial, Ghost World is a loving look at the growing pains of two eccentric young women, told in an almost bluesy tempo. The movie starts with the bonding of best friends Enid (Thora Birch) and Rebecca (Scarlett Johansson); flipping the bird at their high school on graduation day, they've also decided not to attend college, keeping with Enid's goal of defying "definition." Before the workaday grind begins to close in on them, the girls are a deadpan Laurel and Hardy, getting involved in a series of incidents that express their bleak, defensive humor: tailing suspected Satanists; prank-calling personal-ad writers; needling customers at a '50s-retro diner called Wowsville; and taunting an inert store clerk (Brad Renfro) whom they both secretly fancy. Rebecca's decision to look for an apartment in a "totally normal" neighborhood begins a separation process, as Enid responds by dyeing her hair green and dressing punk for a day. Enid's emotional currents shift as often as her spectacles, which she changes from scene to scene -- cat eyes, wire rims, and squarish black frames. Her room, a colorful enclave with goldenrod shelves packed with vintage pop ephemera, becomes her retreat. Ghost World evolves into a funny, un-romance between Enid and bug-eyed, stooping record collector Seymour (Steve Buscemi), but it resists the impulse to resolve Enid's issues in a tidy Hollywood fashion. The first fiction effort by Zwigoff -- whose celebrated Crumb also savored eccentricity, specifically that of comic-book legend R. Crumb and his kin -- fires potent salvos against strip-mall America while serving as an apt measuring of teen ennui. Although cast in a color palette and more cinematically structured than Clowes's comics, the film preserves the characters' funk, regarding this rich gallery of creeps, weirdos, and loners with essential sympathy. The DVD edition sports the infectious, dizzying shimmyfest "Jaan Pehechaan Ho," from the Bollywood film Gumnaam (1965), a frenzied dance number that -- even as a clip -- is an incredible movie. Eddy Crouse

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