Friday, 14 October 2005

Minireview - Ghost World ***

Based on a graphic novel - what "cult" films coming out of America these days aren't? - this is a rather slight film about two misfit teenagers leaving school and starting to explore the wider world. While one tends towards a more conventional life - finding a steady job and spending the proceeds shopping for housewares - the other is determined to remain resolutely outside mainstream society. To that end, she strikes up a bizarre relationship with a weirdo older man, a jazz obsessive who she sees as being similarly marginalised by a society so demanding of conformity.

For the most part, despite the bizarre relationships, it's quite a believable film and engrossing in its own way. The performances of Thora Birch and Steve Buscemi, in particular, are compelling. However, a few points niggle. Scarlett Johansson and Thora Birch aren't quite weird enough - or weird-looking enough - to seem plausible as social outsiders. Birch's character, Enid, is broadly unpleasant rather than simply counter-culture, making it hard to empathise with her; she treats strangers, her friends and her admirers with the same contempt.

Some cameo appearances and throw-away references to other comic books start to grate after a while - it starts to feel like an incestuous comic-book love-in. (Not surprising, given that the director's previous film was Crumb, about the graphic novel author Robert Crumb - who also cropped up as a character in American Splendor. Evidently, the world of graphic novels is a small and close-knit one.) But the main difficulty with the film is that there is no plot to speak of; rather, a series of occasionally self-destructive vignettes. That may well have been the raison d'etre of the original novel - the celebration of a tiny slice of a tiny life - but it makes for a frustrating motion picture experience.

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