Ghost World (15)

Review by Jack Foley

DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Three featurettes of artist Daniel Clowes on his own Ghost World; TV and radio spots; Theatrical trailer; Photo gallery; Scene selection and menu access.

HAVING played a disaffected teenager to great effect in American Beauty, Thora Birch repeats the trick in Ghost World, Terry Zwigoff's quirky look at teen angst and lonely, middle-aged outsiders.

Co-starring the ever-excellent Steve Buscemi, Ghost World takes us on an often humorous, but frequently poignant journey through Middle America as Birch's Enid and her best friend, Rebecca (The Man Who Wasn't There's Scarlett Johnson), contemplate life after college and employment, despite finding themselves out of sync with the rest of the world.

Initially, Birch and Johnson are quite content to drift through life poking fun at others - most notably Brad Renfro's equally confused supermarket cashier, Josh - but gradually find themselves growing apart, as Johnson begins to seriously start saving for an apartment, finds herself a job and knuckles down, leaving Birch to go it alone.

Enid, in the meantime, develops a fascination for Buscemi's inept loner, Seymour, an avid collector of rare 78 rpm blues and jazz records whose inability to connect with women leads to a sheltered existence. Birch finds herself curiously attracted to this alienated malcontent and resolves to help him meet someone, but as she does so, is forced to confront her own feelings of isolation, while finding herself increasingly at odds with those around her of her own age.

Where Zwigoff's movie - which marks the first release from John Malkovich's production company, Mr Mudd - scores so highly is it its alternative portrayal of an often-used theme (the disgruntled adolescent), which helps to deliver some truly individual characters - as cruel, at times, as they are tragic, and as hip as they are quirky. You won't always warm to Enid, or Seymour for that matter, but you will feel sorry for them when you are supposed to and even a little guilty for laughing at their expense earlier.

Birch, in particular, is first rate as the black-clad teenager unable to take any direction in her life, while Buscemi is superb as her reluctant friend. Their relationship is touchingly played and in no way sticks to formula. I defy you to guess where they are heading.

Like American Beauty, much of the humour is of a very black, very satirical nature, and frequently barbed, but unlike Sam Mendes' box office success, this looks less likely to make any sort of mark, especially since it is going up against Harry Potter this Friday. Which is a shame, given that it's one of the most original and bold movies of the year.

Several of the supporting players, also, make their mark, with Bob Balaban (as Enid's out of touch father) and Ileana Douglas (as a pretentious art teacher) adding to the vast array of wacky and wonderful characters who populate the movie.

If the Potter vibe has, thus far, failed to grab you, or you haven't been able to conjure up tickets for the opening week rush, then this offers a brilliant alternative. Go see it and enjoy another slice of quality independent film-making.