Film Commentary [8-20-01]
Accentuate the Negative- - Ghost World
Genre: Comedy
Grade = A

'Accentuate the Negative' - Ghost World film poster
Ghost World follows the antics of two new high school graduates Enid (Thora Birch - American Beauty) and her best friend Rebecca (Scarlett Johannsen - The Horse Whisperer) who are now forced to enter what the rest of us call the ‘real world’. Unfortunately, Enid is not well equipped for this. She is an alienated misfit who apparently loathes everything in a world filled with people she classifies as ‘frauds’ and ‘losers’. Both are cynical and unmotivated.

After spending a lot of time hanging out in cafes and artificial 50's style diners ragging and bitching on everyone they see, Enid and Becky decide to play a joke on a guy who put an ad in the personals section of the newspapers. There victim is Steve Buscemi who portrays Seymour, a 40ish downbeat geek with a passion for old jazz records. After calling him up pretending to be the woman he is looking for and arranging to meet with him in the diner, they watch as he arrives and waits forlornly for his date. After he leaves, they follow him home. Enid’s little plan backfires on her as she eventually meets Seymour and becomes obsessed with finding him a girlfriend. "Maybe I just can't stand the thought of a world where a guy like you can't get a date," she tells him, only to become insanely jealous when he hits it off with another woman.

Meanwhile, Enid is not willing to start her life as an adult and things are not going well for her. Enid is forced to take remedial art at summer school in order to get her diploma, and it looks like she is failing it. Becky constantly prods her to get a job so they can move into their own apartment and is exasperated by her foot dragging. Even worse, her father (Bob Balaban) is taking back up with her hated former third step-mother Maxine (Teri Garr).

Directed by Terry Zwigoff whose last film was the brilliant documentary on comic artist Robert Crumb (Crumb) is based on a script by Dan Clowes from his stunningly original comic book of the same name. Although comics and film have form has a long history with comics becoming movies (Batman, Superman, Dick Tracy) and movies being made into comics (Star Wars, Planet of the Apes) * , this is the first of the ‘alternative comics’ that have made it to the wide screen. No superheroes, horror or science fiction to be found. Its about ordinary people (relatively speaking) and hopefully it will not be the last (hint - Strangers in Paradise would look good on film).

Buscemi gives his best performance since Fargo and his little known self-directed film Trees Lounge as the sad, eccentric Seymour who has reserved himself to his fate of being alone for the rest of his life only to have his hopes raised and dashed by Enid. Maybe he will finally get the Oscar nomination that he deserves. Birch’s performance intrinsically captures the essence of the character as created in the comic and breaths life into it. Johannsen’s performance, while prominent in the first third of the film is conspicuously absent in the remainder, appearing only to rag Enid to get a job and move into an apartment. Johannsen’s performance is for the most part wasted.

With the exception of Seymour and Zack (Brad Renfro), Edna’s and Becky’s friend and torment victim, most of the main characters of this film are not very likable. Enid, by no limitation, is a totally obnoxious asshole, even repellant at times. Her quick judgments and condescending remarks based on a momentary and outward appearances displays her shallowness. However, where she first dismisses Seymour as a loser, when getting to know him discovers that he is intelligent but lonely and far more nonconformist than she is with his rejection of contemporary mass produced popular culture. Naturally, she manages to completely screw up both of their lives without even trying. Enid’s downfall is a result of her own selfishness, outward cruelty and self-loathing. Becky is almost as shallow and self centered with her constant bitching about the frigging apartment.

There is also a fine supporting cast of oddballs including the mullet-headed redneck (with numchucks), Nazi gore magazine guy and Seymour’s roommate. An outstanding and hysterical performance by Illeana Douglas as Roberta the remedial art teacher. Teri Garr was funny even though she was only on the screen for a minute.

This is at times an absolutely hysterically funny film, especially the minor characters and subplots. Additionally, there is something to offend virtually everyone - from African-Americans to Satanists. Although it tends to be episodic in nature rather than having a straight storyline, it is a far more realistic film about American teenagers than any of the American Pie ilk of contemporary movies. Surprisingly, the ending is not conclusive, it is in fact a metaphor for the film’s title. This is one of the best movies of the year.

* There is also the strange phenomena of Jay and Silent Bob from the film Clerks being made into their own comic and then in turn having their own film - Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back opening in August.

Enid in her finest film moment

Illeana Douglas as Roberta the art teacher (Note - the Sambo poster is significant while at the same time being particularly offensive. It has 'Coon's Chicken' written across its teeth.)

Enid and Seymour

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