Just forget the words and sing along

Thursday, October 04, 2018

Fishing in the Discount Bin - Ghost World

Here we go again on Fishing in the Discount Bin, where I watch a movie and blog about it.  I think you've figured out the formula by now.  This time out, we're watching the 2001 indie classic Ghost World.  This is in my notes at May 20, 2018.

The early 2000s was when this whole boom of superhero films at the box office began happening.  Many film historians will tell you it all started with X-Men in Y2K.  But as the boom began, there were several smaller adaptations of indie comics that came along.  Films like Road to Perdition and A History of Violence.  If the 1990s was about comic books finally achieving legitimacy as a medium, then it was adaptations like those that helped cement it.  And it was in this boom where we got Ghost World

Based on the famous underground comic by Daniel Clowes, Ghost World tells the tale of Enid and Rebeca, two recent graduates from high school as they try to figure out what next to do in life.  The adaptation was the first fictional film from documentary filmmaker Terry Zwigof.  He discovered Ghost World and became friends with Clowes while making his 1994 documentary Crumb, about legendary underground comic book artist Robert Crumb.  Zwigof enlisted Clowes to help write the screenplay.  As it was Clowes first screenplay, he said that, for the first draft, all he really did was write a transcript of the comic.  Realizing that wouldn't work, for his second draft, he ignored the comic altogether and wrote an original story for the screen.  He describes the finished script as something in between. 

Ghost World actually got very little attention when it hit theatres in the summer of 2001.  It was rediscovered later that year, when awards season came around and it started picking up awards, culminating in its Oscar nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay.  It has since gone on to become a certified cult classic.  And like a lot of certified cult classics, it recently got a spiffy Criterion edition.  When I saw that Criterion edition, I thought, "I want this," and so I picked it up.

Which is weird, because I'd never actually seen Ghost World before.  I mean, back in 2001, it sure felt like I'd seen it, as most of my friends were into comics and indie films and the Ghost World demographic.  I remember one of my friends being actually pretty pissed off when Wizard Magazine declared it one of the best comic book adaptations of all time.  "You guys never cared about underground comics until that movie became a hit," grumbled my friend. 

So I picked up that Criterion edition -- as I've said, Criterion editions tend to class up the Blu-ray shelf -- and I watched it.  I've since watched it three times.  I figured I just wanted to fully drink it in before I sat down to write about it. 

Our heroine is Enid.  She is very much what pop culture now brands as a hipster.  She wears vintage clothing.  She listens to vinyl.  (Remember, back in 2001, vinyl was considered dead and was regarded as a niche hobby).  When we first meet her during the opening credits, she's rocking out to a Bollywood number from the 1960s.  And she has reason to be celebrating.  It's her high school graduation, and she's ready to take on the real world 

But, after grad, as she and her friend Rebeca sit down to start mocking the institution that had enslaved them for all of her lives, she gets a bit of a blow.  Turns out she failed art class, and if she truly wants to graduate, she'll need to repeat it in summer school.  And thus, Enid and Rebeca begin a summer of wander around their hometown, wondering what next to do with their lives. 

In doing so, they get up to various shenanigans.  They like to go down to the corner store and harass their friend Josh, although as we can tell from their longing looks, they do it because they're both kinda in to him.  Their pranks set our plot in gear when they decide to respond to a personal ad in the paper.  Intending to mock this lonely heart from afar, they invite him down to their local diner.  In walks Steve Buscemi, in a green cardigan, as he sits and waits for his date that never arrives.  Enid comes to feel bad over their prank, and wants to make sure the guy is going to be OK.  When they go around his apartment building, they see him manning a table at a garage sale, and Enid comes to know him as Seymour.  Enid begins feeling drawn to Seymour, and they strike up a friendship. 

In Seymour, Enid sees a chance at holding on to her quirkiness into her adulthood.  Seymour is a record collector, with a massive collection of vintage 78s.  When Seymour invites Enid into his study, she nerds out at all the vintage memorabilia he's collected over the years.  In order to keep helping Seymour become a functional adult, she decides to help get him a girlfriend. 

But her growing time with Seymour begins to take a toll on her friendship with Rebeca, as they begin drifting apart.  As we learn, since the seventh grade, Rebeca has dreamed of them striking out on their own and getting their own apartment and living together.  But now that the time has come, Enid's not so sure.  Rebeca promptly gets a job and very much falls in love with the concept of "adulting," as we see her nerd out over kitchenware when they go to Ikea to stock up their apartment. 

We start seeing the strain in their friendship when Enid shows up at Rebeca's place of work wearing a Catwoman mask.  It's strange...that image was such a huge part of the film's marketing, but it's such a small scene.  The whole build up to it is Enid and Seymour pass by their town's adult novelty store, and Enid drags Seymour inside, having always wanted to check it out.  As they wander the aisles, she can't stop laughing her ass off, much to the embarrassment of Seymour, and begs him to buy her that mask when they see it.  Enid shows it off to Rebeca at the coffee shop where she works, and Rebeca is mildly disappointed, as she and Enid had always talked about exploring it together.  Rebeca complains about the "freaks and weirdos" she has to deal with in her job, to which a mildly offended Enid goes, "But those our our people."  And Rebeca just responds with, "Yeah, well...." 

So Enid tries her best.  She gets a job working the concession stand at a movie theater.  But, as she's a very sarcastic woman, she can't stop cracking wise to the customers about how bad the movie is or making snarky remarks about the food she's serving...which results in her getting fired by the end of her first day.  Enid is what happens when someone raised on the indie films of the 1990s comes crashing into the real world.  Too bad you can't make rude comments to the customers like Randall in Clerks, because those people will complain to the boss and you'll get fired.  As mush as Enid would love to live in a Wes Anderson movie, she's stuck in the boring ol' real world. 

Things start coming to a head when Seymour actually does meet a woman and they begin dating.  Seymour seems to be moving on from Enid, which makes Enid jealous.  She then has a big fight with Rebeca, because Enid's been dragging her heels on them finding an apartment.  And then, her dad announces he's getting re-married.  And I totally get why Enid starts getting angry and frustrated.  All her friends are moving on to these big, beautiful lives, but she's still who she is.  I felt it in the time the movie came out, in those first few years after college.  Hell, I still feel it to this very day. 

And I haven't even gotten to the whole art class plot yet.  The teacher fits every stereotype of the pretentious artist that you've ever known.  As we've seen throughout the film, Enid is a pretty talented artist, always sketching her surroundings in her sketchbook, but the teacher dismisses her sketches as "frivolous cartoons."  Going through Seymour's collection, Enid finds an old ad for a friend chicken restaurant, which features their original mascot -- a really racist caricature of an African American chef.  Enid submits that as her art project, parrots back to the art teacher a bunch of the teacher's pretentious art terms when she's asked to explain it, and is now heralded as a genius.  This even wins her a full scholarship to art school.  But, the piece causes a stink at the semester end art show because, well, really racist caricature, and Enid fails art class again and loses the scholarship.  Her one chance, taken from her by her aloof attitude. 

Which all kind of builds up to the end.  One of the people Enid has met in her wanderings is this old man who spends his days sitting at decommissioned bus stop, waiting for a bus that will never come.  Late one night, to Enid's surprise, a bus does stop at this bus stop, and the old man gets on it.  So, at the end, Enid goes to that same decommissioned bus stop, gets on the mystery bus when it arrives, and rides off into the sunset.  Apparently, many have interpreted it to be a metaphor for suicide, and that, in fact, Enid killed herself.  Said Daniel Clowes, "That was never my intent, but I can see how people would get that."  My interpretation?  Well, the end credit music is the same Bollywood tune that Enid was rocking out to in the opening credits.  And that was pretty much the only time in the film we saw her fully, truly happy.  So wherever Enid went on that bus ride, at the end, she finally found happiness. 

Watching it for my third time last night, I came up with the clever way to sum it up:  it's the hipster American Graffiti.  Both kind of deal with that haze we all go through at the end of high school where we just look around and kinda go, "Now what?"  I don't know why it was always branded as a comedy, though, as I found it to be rather melancholy.  But I still really enjoyed it.  So check it out if you haven't.

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