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Ghost World

March 24, 2009
There is a scene in Ghost World when Enid ( Thora Birch), asksSeymour ( Steve Buscemi), “Do you have any old Indian records?”. When Seymour does not quiet understand what she is referring to Enid describes You know, like weird 1960’s Indian rock n’ roll music. So whats this reference to Indian rock n roll music in a movie about 2 teen females, in American suburbia. Why would an American teen have this fascination for old Indian style rock n roll which was a rage in the 60’s.

Well for that go to the opening credits. As the opening credits flashed on for Ghost World, i was surprised to see the Gumnaam club number Jaan Pechan Ho sung by Rafi, and no its not in the background, you actually get to see Laxmi Chaaya boogeying to Shankar Jaikishan’s music, with the dancers around doing those pelvis grind routines, that were a must in most of the 60’s flicks. What was this old 60’s number doing in an quintessentially American movie ? Or did the DVD guy do some kind of switcheroo here, putting English titles on a Hindi song? Well honestly i knew not much about Ghost World, in fact i picked it up, cause the DVD said it had one of my favorites Steve Buscemi. 

Now wait the weird 60’s style Indian rock n roll song is not the only thing odd about Ghost World, contrary to it’s title the movie has nothing to do with Ghosts, good, bad or ugly. And what’s more it has Steve Buscemi in the romantic lead. Steve Buscemi!!! Romantic lead are you kidding? I love Steve, i think he is one of the best actors the other side of the Atlantic, but considering Hollywood most of the time keeps casting him in roles, that are neurotic, crazy or pyschotic, one does not really see Steve as a romantic lover kind. We thought those kinda roles were for the Richard Geres and Orlando Blooms, whats Steve doing here? But then nothing is what you would call normal in director Terry Zwigoff’s movie adaptation of the graphic series by Daniel Clowes.


The story itself centers around two friends Enid and Rebecca( Scarlett Johansson, in her teen days), both of them misfits, both of them kinda rebels who hate the existing pop culture around them. When we see the opening credits, the camera keeps swtching between the song and the windows all lit blue within, in one flat a bored couple watching TV, n another one a guy watching some Home Shopping program, and we dont see Enid in close just her silhoutte, as she keeps dancing to the song, mimicking Lakshmi Chaya’s routines. Hmm makes me wonder are 60’s songs popular in US and UK? Maybe people from there could give a better idea. Or is that considering Enid wants to be different, she picks up this song.
Enid and Rebecca have finished their high school graduation, but clearly they are apart from the crowd, as the initial scenes depict. In fact nothing better than that particular bit, when Enid comes out and gives the middle finger to the school, indicating her distaste for the normal education. Like Little Miss Sunshine, Ghost World also keeps poking fun at the American pop culture, through Enid and Rebecca. Enid’s joy at being released from school is however short lived, when she learns that she has to take a stupid arts course at summer school, because she had failed in it.
We see more of Enid when she calls the most popular students “the creepy faces”. Both of them dont want to do the conventional education, a bit of free spirits. Bored one day, they make a crank call to a guy in the Personals section, and telling him that Enid is the woman he is infatuated with. Thye wait for the guy along with their friend Josh, who is brainy, and reluctantly keeps tagging along with the two girls. In a great scene, Seymour turns up, just waits and goes away. Enid begins to feel sorry for him, and begins to follow him. And she does meet him at a garage sale, where he is disposing off some of his old LP records. Another retro reference here, those were the records of our Dad’s times, not found nowadays and more of a collector’s item. Enid ultimately ends up buying an old Memphis Minnies, blues, again another reference to the 20’s blues singer. In fact music composer David Kitay, pays a retro tribute throughout the OST, mostly to the LP’s of blues and calypso singer. And making Seymour’s character as a collector of old 78RPM records sets it up well here. And slowly Enid finds that she is actually beginning to like Seymour.
So what we have here is an odd relationship which moves at its own pace. At the other level is Enid herself. What kind of girl is she? She seems to be a I dont care bad ass kind, considering she keeps using cuss words which good girls should not be using. She dyes her hair green, and feels “Everybody is too stupid”. Enid’s character is the strength of this movie, you are fascinated by her care a damn attitude, her disregard for social niceties. But then Enid does not fit into the liberal category either, as shown by the way her “progressive art teacher” does not think highly of her drawings. The scene where Enid drags along Rebecca to a party of elder guys discussing old retro songs is a real chuckle. Another great scene is where Enid tries to set up a date for Seymour, who feels he is some kind of loser, and could never really get a girl. Lovely scene, coz it gives the insights into both Enid and more into Seymour.
Another fabulous scene is when both Enid and Seymour walk into a porno shop, Seymour is all sweaty and blushing, Enid is cool playing around with the toys. But for all his meek and soft spoken nature, Seymour could be really cranky at times, as when he goes to a bar and finds the 20 something guys ignoring a lovely blues number. Another great scene when Enid gets a job as a candy counter attendant at a movie theater, and the way she pisses off her customers and her boss.
What works for Ghost World is the mixture of quirky tongue in cheek humour, the well written characters and some poignant humour. Unlike other rom coms or teen flicks, this one has characters who have depth, and relationships that are well explored. As a lay audience, i have one major rule of thumb, to judge how good a movie it is, did it get me interested? And by that criteria Ghost World does, at every stage it made me interested in Enid, Rebecca and Seymour. It made me think about their relationships, unlike most of the rom coms, which just left me yawning.
And of course Steve Buscemi and Thora Birch are just fantastic. Birch who played Kevin Spacey’s daughter in American Beauty, is first rate here, bringing out Enid’s cattiness, her cranky nature, in a performance totally natural and unaffected. Scarlet Johannsonn in her teen avatar, is pretty good in the sensible foil she plays to Birch’s Enid. While Rebecca hates the world around her, she is a bit more pragmatic compared to Enid. But its Steve Buscemi who really rocks in a role much different from the standard pyscho, weirdo roles he usually plays. Buscemi for me has been one of the most underrated actors , and here he is brilliant. Watch him in the scene in the porno shop where he is all sweaty and blushing, cracker. Or the scene when discovering he has been used by Enid goes into a rage. What an actor is all i can say. Its sad that Hollywood never really exploited his talent, mostly casting him in weirdo roles. Ghost World really proves his vast talent.
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