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Ghost World on DVD

Thora Birch, Scarlett Johansson, Brad Renfro, Steve Buscemi, Illeana Douglas. Directed by Terry Zwigoff. Aspect ratio: 1.85:1 (anamorphic). Dolby 5.1 surround. 111 minutes. 2001. MGM 1002564. R. $26.98.

At first, Ghost World seems like a sarcastic, twisted teen comedy, but it proves to be surprisingly philosophical and bittersweet. Based on the graphic novel Ghost World, by Dan Clowes, the film is about two teenagers coming of age during the summer after high school graduation. Enid (American Beauty's Thora Birch) is a graduating senior with a cynical surface. Her best friend, Rebecca (Scarlett Johansson), shares her disdain for high school, but is more willing to grow up and work with the system. The two are so close they seem married, but such childhood friendships rarely survive into adulthood.

When they spot a pathetic "Chance Meetings" personals ad in the local weekly—man seeks blonde he met at airport, "Did we have a moment?"—the girls call the poor guy and set up a fake date. Nerdy, middle-aged Seymour (Steve Buscemi) shows up to meet his bombshell, only to seemingly get stood up. Feeling guilty but curious, Enid eventually seeks out Seymour, telling her jealous friend, "He's such a clueless dork, he's almost kinda cool."

Enid's time spent with Seymour detracts from time spent with Rebecca, and soon there's a rift in the friendship. Enid is thrown for a few more loops, her slowly forming plans begin to crumble, and she has to make decisions about the future as everything changes, and not to her liking. The dialogue is sharp and witty, and the film's huge emotional range expresses the fun and pain of adolescence. There's some biting satire about political correctness and shock art (eg, a tampon in a teacup), and Illeana Douglas turns in a wonderful performance as a PC art teacher who doubts Enid's talent. Throughout, Birch takes us on Enid's journey with great skill and empathy.

Ghost World's 1.85:1 anamorphic transfer is crisp and bright. The film is rich in color, reflecting its comic-book origins, and the girls' outfits reflect their personalities. Enid's green hair and bright red outfits contrast with Rebecca's increasingly demure Gap tones. The interior decoration is also visually rich, reflecting the characters' tastes.

The sound is satisfactory, but the speakers are tested mostly by the music. Among rock ballads from the Buzzcocks and others is a bizarre number from Gumnaam (a 1965 Indian film by Raja Nawathe) that will stick in your head for a good hour. A scratchy 78 of "Devil Got My Woman" is accurately rendered and we understand why Enid loves it.

The extras include the Gumnaam music video and five outtakes, all brief and entertaining but best left on the cutting-room floor. The "Making of" featurette runs about 15 minutes and provides good background information about the original comic book, as well as comments from cast and crew. Ghost World is character-driven, dialogue-heavy, and worth analyzing, so it's satisfying to hear the thoughts of the actors and Terry Zwigoff (who also directed Crumb). And the trailers will make you laugh, even after you've watched the flick. There's no commentary track with Zwigoff or Clowes, so hardcore fans may be disappointed. My only real gripe is with the DVD's menu, which takes longer than expected to switch between sections.

Still, this small film has received a buzz worthy of its content, and Birch and Buscemi were nominated for Golden Globe awards. The entire cast excellently portrays these complex, oddball characters who, by the end, have become quite lovable. Ghost World is packed with great acting, social commentary, and truths about growing up. Don't let the sassy teenagers fool you—this film has a lot to say.

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