Shiny Shelf

Ghost World

By Mark Clapham on 08 November 2002

There’s more to comic book film adaptations than a CGI Tobey Maguire kicking Willem Dafoe in the face, y’know. As a story-hungry film industry tears through source material in search of suitable subject matter for movies, it’s not just the big superhero franchises that are getting big screen incarnations. More intelligent comic books are getting made into movies too, based on indie hits such as ‘From Hell’ and ‘The Road to Perdition’. And then there’s ‘Ghost World’, director Terry Zwigoff’s eccentrically brilliant adaptation of Daniel Clowes’ acclaimed comic book.

The title has a double meaning, referring both to the months between the end of school and the start of college or work – a strange period in anyone’s life – and the endless suburbs through which Clowes’ listless characters wander. The film, co-written by Clowes and Zwigoff, brings this world to life with alarming precision, choosing not to follow the book’s fractured and episodic narrative but to stay faithful to its spirit while telling a suitably coherent story.

Getting that spirit across is incredibly dependant on casting and in Thora Birch the film has a perfect
incarnation of Clowes’ spiteful anti-heroine Enid. Birch brings an endearing note of adolescent frustration to Enid’s scorn, and is solidly backed up by Scarlett Johansson as Enid’s best friend. There’s also a prime supporting role for Steve Buscemi as a time-lost jazz fan. Buscemi’s character – new to the film – ties a lot of the re-used set pieces together and helps the narrative flow, and in this it helps that he looks more like a Clowes drawing than any man alive.

Keeping the film together is the assured direction of Zwigoff, who looked at a real life suburban eccentricity in the documentary ‘Crumb’. This is a sharp and funny film, full of great jokes and with a surprisingly touching undercurrent, and a pleasure for fans of both indie cinema and indie comics.

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By Mark Clapham

Mark Clapham is a Devon-based writer and editor. You can find out more about him at the egotistically named

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