For the first of her two films this time around, Cristeta brought us Ghost World, the 2001 comic book adaptation directed by Terry Zwigoff. I say “comic book adaptation” because, well, that’s what everybody and their mother is telling me that this film is. In fact, you can see pictures of the comic book online and everything, so I didn’t bother to actually check to make sure the whole thing isn’t a hoax. But just to be clear, this isn’t your older brother’s comic book. There are no superheroes or magical powers, and nobody saves the world or even has to, and there’s not even really a proper antagonist. It’s more like somebody decided to write a novel, but was more of a drawing person than a prose person, so they just drew it instead. Like a novel, but with graphics. See? So it would seem to fit the definition of a graphic novel perfectly fine, it’s just that I’ve never seen a “comic book” with a story like this.
But then again, I’m not a comic book guy at all, so I can’t really say. Maybe comic book guys get a bum rap on the whole nerd thing. Or maybe it’s just an opportunity for them to broaden their horizons. Or maybe Ghost World is the poseur of the comic book world, the graphic novel that lets people pretend that they like graphic novels despite the fact that they couldn’t actually handle a real one – you know, like the role Heineken plays for beer. I don’t know. And really, this isn’t supposed to be about the graphic novel anyway, it’s about the movie.
And the movie is all about teenage angst. It is, to my recollection, by far the angstiest movie we’ve shown at Cinema 1544. Even “The Virgin Suicides”, where five teenage girls commit suicide, is less angsty than Ghost World. Enid, embroiled in the wasted summer following her high-school graduation, is the font of angst in this film. Her plans include getting fired from summer jobs, poignantly musing on the fact that she’s never again going to be seeing all of these people from high school despite the fact that she hates them, taking a remedial art class in summer school to actually graduate, and getting an apartment with her longtime best friend Becky.
Unlike Enid, Becky has basically no redeeming qualities. Despite somehow being less attractive (and yes, how the movie pulled off Birch > Johansson is still boggling to me, but it happened) she’s the one who is more popular with boys and she’s not terribly afraid to flaunt it. She’s self-centered, she’s moody, she’s impatient, she overreacts…everything you want in a best friend. And it only gets worse.
While nothing’s really happening, it’s probably a good time to introduce Norman. Norman is the local bus stop fixture, and fixed he is, as the particular bus line he’s waiting for was cancelled years before. He seems more than a bit cracked, and despite her loads of ennui, Enid, after having seen him waiting for a missing bus so many times, finally tries to get him into conversation and let him know that the route has been discontinued. (Becky could care less about the human element involved here.) But Norman insists the bus is coming, so whatcha gonna do?
Well, perhaps the best thing to do is to play a practical joke on a lonely guy – Seymour – who put out a classified ad. Enid reads one of those “missed connection” personal ads and decides to call up and leave a message on the guy’s machine directing him to a local malt shop for a meet-up. Enid and Becky stake out a table and cruelly watch Seymour as he thinks he gets stood up. Then, for some inexplicable reason they follow him to his house, where he’s having a garage sale, selling off some old records. Enid, feeling sorry for him (and well she should) awkwardly strikes up a conversation and buys an old jazz record – which she ends up liking. Plus, she thinks he’s sweet in a nerdy way, so she goes back for more, eventually striking up a friendship with Seymour that severely strains her fragile relationship with Becky, who can’t understand that you might enjoy spending time with somebody because you like who they are as a person.
Enid and Seymour begin to have many adventures, mostly tame, with one another. We learn, for instance, that Seymour is employed as a corporate manager in the Cook’s Chicken fast food restaurant. Not particularly interesting, but Enid runs across an old poster that is fairly offensive in modern times, depicting a caricatured negro selling “Coon’s Chicken”. It turns out that this was the original name of the restaurant and that Seymour has liberated the poster from his place of employment out of some sort of morbid fascination with it. He lets Enid take it to her remedial art class where she presents it as some sort of found-art-statement, which her bubbleheaded art teacher just eats up – so much so that she eventually recommends Enid for an art scholarship.
Enid also plays a pivotal role in Seymour’s love life when he receives a belated voice message from the real missed love connection. Although she doesn’t reveal her role in the prank (N.B.: tragic flaw) she does persuade him to meet the woman, Dana, despite Seymour’s suspicion that he’s about to get stood up again. Oddly, he suspects a prank. Still, they hit it off (somehow…it’s not really portrayed as a soulmate relationship by any means) and soon, Seymour is spending more time with his girlfriend than with his now-apparently-jealous babysitting charge.
This sets into motion a series of events that cascades with Enid getting her art scholarship offer revoked due to a scandal at the school’s art show, getting drunk and showing up at Seymour’s house, and then babbling about how she wants to move in with him while they make the beast with two Buscemis. Though she’s not actually serious about this. She’s drunk.
So, after she sneaks out in the walk of shame, Seymour breaks up with Dana and then tries to find Enid over at Becky’s apartment. Becky, naturally, is angry about Enid not following through with moving in with her (See? Both Becky and Seymour want the same thing!) and as a point of revenge Becky casually pulls Enid’s drawing journal out of one of her packed boxes and shows Seymour a drawing of the prank, convincing him that Enid was having him on the whole time. Plus, as a result of the scandal at the art show, Cook’s Chicken figures out that Seymour was involved in “leaking” the offensive painting, and he’s fired! Furthermore, Enid, mysteriously seeing Norman actually board a bus from his bus stop, catches the next Express out of town. The end.
It’s really a tragic movie. Seymour’s life is utterly destroyed in a matter of hours, simply because an eighteen-year-old girl was simultaneously stupid, bored, and jealous, and to top it off, she just runs away from her problems as a result of it. He can’t just conveniently hop the next bus to Not Here and start fresh like she can. The worst part is that aside from the prank at the beginning, she didn’t even mean to do it. She just angsted Seymour straight into purgatory because she was eighteen, and eighteen-year-olds are stupid and can’t see the consequences of their own actions.
Thus endeth the greatest, most misogynistic, most ephebiphobic lesson ever taught by a comic book.