‘Ghost World’ – suburban teen rebels on Prime Video and free on Kanopy and Hoopla

Thora Birch discovers that it doesn’t get any better after high school in Ghost World (2001), a smart, sly adaptation of the cult comic book by Daniel Clowes.

Birch and Scarlett Johansson star as Enid and Rebecca, best friends and fellow high school grads who share a sneering contempt for pop culture, their vacuous fellow high school grads, and life in general. They’re whip smart and alienated and wear their nonconformity like a badge of pride, which hardly makes life any easier for them, but they also find beauty in the termite art found in the cracks of pop culture.

Steve Buscemi has the role of a lifetime as fortysomething blues collector Seymour, a nerdish loner Enid meets on a lark through a personal ad he puts in the local alternate weekly. It starts out as a prank but Enid recognizes as a kindred soul in the purity of his passion and adopts him as a new friend and a project, even setting him up on a date (which, of course, is an utter failure).

Director Terry Zwigoff segues very nicely from the creepy weirdness of his 1995 documentary Crumb to this clear-eyed tale of sarcastic rebels without a cause in a drab, dreary LA suburb. He has a gift for understated moments of wry humor and a sensitivity to the ennui surrounding the lost Generation Y girls so busy sniping and skewering the “losers” around them to find any direction in their own floating lives. While we sympathize with their ennui, the film never lets us forget that they’re in danger of becoming into the same losers they relentlessly ridicule.

Illeana Douglas plays a supportive art teacher and Brad Renfro, Bob Balaban, and Teri Garr costar.

The screenplay, by director Zwigoff and original author Clowes, was nominated for an Academy Award and won the best first screenplay prize at the Film Independent Spirit Awards. Supporting actor Steve Buscemi also won at the Film Independent Spirit Awards as well as the National Society of Film Critics and the New York Film Critics Circle.

Rated R

Also on Blu-ray and DVD and on SVOD through Amazon Video, iTunes, GooglePlay, Vudu and/or other services. Availability may vary by service.
Ghost World (The Criterion Collection) [Blu-ray]
Ghost World (The Criterion Collection) [DVD]
Ghost World [DVD]

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Sean Axmaker is a Seattle film critic and writer. He writes the weekly newspaper column Stream On Demand and the companion website, and his work appears at RogerEbert.com, Turner Classic Movies online, The Film Noir Foundation, and Parallax View.

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