Let the unsettling secrets of this outrageously funny and steadily engrossing meditation on the life of two high school misfits after graduation catch you by surprise. It’s that good. Extroverted Enid (Thora Birch) and her polar opposite Rebecca, acutely observed by Scarlett Johansson, live in a world of malls, franchises and trendy pop-culture references that don’t seem quite real to them. They share a crush on schoolmate Josh (Brad Renfro) and make some vague plans to find an apartment together, but each girl feels adrift and disaffected.
This is Ghost World, the altogether original creation of Daniel Clowes, an underground comic-book illustrator. Clowes has now joined with writer-director Terry Zwigoff, whose 1994 documentary about comic artist R. Crumb is a landmark, to bring his work to the screen. The result is a film like no other, an artful spellbinder that cuts deep. The fast and the furious trends of current cinema hold no interest for Zwigoff, who keeps his camera attuned to nuance. Watch Enid’s cynicism fade when she meets Seymour (Steve Buscemi), a fortyish record collector whose painful shyness can’t disguise his passion for music. The two outcasts form a bond, spiritual and sexual, that is the heart of the movie. Birch makes good on the promise she showed in American Beauty with a performance of riveting intensity. And Buscemi has never been better, which is saying something. Ghost World isn’t easy to shake off. But only a fool would want to.