The main performers of the film are pitch-perfect in their respective roles. As the center of the film, Thora Birch effortlessly embodies the angst and loneliness churning behind her character’s defiantly sardonic attitude, and her co-star Scarlett Johansson dutifully stands by Birch. While the late Brad Renfro is solid as a lad a bit too slow for Enid and Rebecca, Illeana Douglas is hilarious as Enid’s summer art class teacher who unwisely puts the freedom of artistic expression above political correctness when Enid presents one of Seymour’s old stuffs which is quite controversial to say the least. Bob Balaban, Teri Garr, Dave Sheridan, Pat Healy, and David Cross are also enjoyable in their small but colorful supporting parts.
The best performance in the film comes from Steve Buscemi, who should have been Oscar-nominated at that time. (He received several major critics awards, including a Golden Globe nomination at least). While he can be a smart, ruthless gangster as shown from HBO TV series “Boardwalk Empire,” this ever-dependable character actor is born to play losers and loners because of his natural weary presence, and he is alternatively funny and poignant. He and Birch click with each other well with precise low-key comic timing whenever they are on the screen together, and you will not believe that he actually wanted to shed his character as soon as possible whenever the shooting was over.
On the whole, “Ghost World” can be an acquired taste, but it is still worthwhile to watch for its excellent handling of story, mood, and character. I will not go into details on the finale, but I can tell you instead that I appreciate the sublime poetic quality of a brief but important moment of epiphany for Enid, and how that beautifully leads to the tentative hopefulness of the following epilogue. Regardless of how her last shot in the film can be interpreted, you may sense that things might get better for not only her but also Seymour. Despite their cynicism you will care about what may be next for their respective lives, and that is surely an achievement.