Just when I was sure I never wanted to see another movie about a terminally cynical, acid-tongued, thrift-shop-chic, postfeminist, postmodern, so-above-it-all-she-makes-your-teeth-ache teenage cherub, along comes Terry Zwigoff’s Ghost World, a buoyant, funny, and disarmingly humane comedy of beautiful losers in revolt. Enid (Thora Birch), in her thick black frames and punky Louise Brooks bob, is ironic about everything but her articulate contempt for the world around her. The trick of the movie is this: It invites you onto her wavelength, indulges it, but refuses to share it. Enid and her best friend, the more conventionally haughty Rebecca (Scarlett Johansson), wander through the suburban grit and plastic, a verite adventure world of creeps and eccentrics that the film portrays with juicy acerbic joy yet, somehow, without edging into caricature.
Zwigoff, who made the great 1995 documentary Crumb, has folded several of that film’s obsessions into a winsome adaptation of Daniel Clowes’ graphic novel. Zwigoff fleshes out the character of Seymour (Steve Buscemi), a miserably clad sad sack who collects vintage blues, jazz, and ragtime 78s and can relate to nothing in the corporately homogenized media age, including those people (i.e., everyone) who take their cues from it. He and Enid are drawn together as outsiders only because they won’t define themselves by what’s outside of them, and Zwigoff, like a gentler Todd Solondz, locates something close to love in their rapt alienation. Ghost World is a movie for anyone who ever felt imprisoned by life but crazy about it anyway.