Ghost World

The attitude of “Ghost World” is best summarized in this exchange between two new high school graduates, watching the cheesy entertainment at their graduation party.

REBECCA: “This is so bad it’s almost good.”
ENID: “This is so bad, it’s gone past good and back to bad again.”

“Ghost World” is not itself a keen, trenchant observer of the ironies of modern Gen-Y life. It is instead an observer of the observers — the young, disaffected people who sit on the sidelines and mask their emotions by heckling everything they see.

Enid (Thora Birch) is the queen of sardonicism, and her best friend Rebecca (Scarlett Johansson) tries to keep up the attitude. They spend their time wandering around their L.A. neighborhood, accomplishing nothing except passing off hilarious remarks about the people around them. They would be considered slackers, except they probably make fun of slackers, too.

They’ve just graduated from high school and have no clue what they want to do. It is clear to us that they are going to have to grow up and find something to be passionate about, and Rebecca slowly realizes this and becomes distanced from Enid. Enid, however, is in a perpetual state of apathy, casually at odds with her wimpy father (Bob Balaban) and only half-heartedly looking for a job.

She winds up meeting a nerdy, 30-ish old-record fanatic named Seymour (Steve Buscemi) and developing an unlikely friendship with him. He’s as much a misfit in society as she is, though he admits to wishing it were otherwise, while she seems content with things as they are. Eventually, he will be the catalyst to help her find a place in the world.

Terry Zwigoff directed and co-wrote the film, with Daniel Clowes, on whose comic book it is based. The world of commercialism, pop culture and strip malls in which our heroes live is vividly and humorously portrayed, and though the film has a serious undertone, it is often hysterically funny.

Teri Garr, Brian George and Illeana Doulgas all shine in limited roles as Enid’s dad’s girlfriend, a convenience store owner and a touchy-feely art teacher, respectively.

Thora Birch is perfect as Enid, with retro-nerd glasses and too-dark hair. Steve Buscemi, who has made a career out of playing weird guys, here plays a guy who is weird in a normal way — the kind of weird guy you might actually meet in everyday life. He and Birch do well together.

The audience may be able to sympathize all too well with Rebecca, who grows tired of Enid’s constant cynicism. But that is precisely the point: She can’t go on doing this forever. If she wants to have any lasting relationships in her life, she will have to get serious about something, anything. It is to the film’s credit that it treats Enid more seriously than she treats herself, eventually developing her as a dynamic, sympathetic character.

B+ (; R, frequent harsh profanity, some sexuality.)