Book vs Film: Ghost World

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The first time I read Ghost World by Daniel Clowes was back in university (10+ years ago). It was actually assigned reading for an English class I took, although I’m not sure I acknowledged how cool that was at the time. I just recently watched the movie version for the first time. Daniel Clowes co-wrote the screenplay with Terry Zwigoff and it was nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay at the Academy Awards, making it the first film based on a graphic novel or comic book to receive an Oscar nomination (at least according to IMDb).

Ghost World is pretty dark at times, but also pretty funny. The dialogue between Enid and Rebecca, the two smart, cynical teenage girls at the centre of the story, is so ridiculously accurate that it makes you forget Ghost World was written by a man. A lot of that dialogue is also in the movie version, word-for-word in some scenes. In this interview for The Atlantic, Clowes said: “My only rule for writing dialogue is to not think about it very much.” Seems to work for him so I’m going to keep that in mind whenever I write.

There are some pretty big differences between the comic and the movie, the biggest one involving Steve Buscemi’s character, Seymour. Let’s just say that if he’s your favourite part of the movie you won’t be too happy with the comic. Seymour and his relationship with Enid play a really big role in the film while the book focuses more on the friendship between Enid and Rebecca. I thought Thora Birch did an amazing job as Enid, but Scarlett Johansson was, as usual, completely one dimensional, so her take on Rebecca fell flat for me. I also didn’t feel that these two actresses had much on-screen chemistry, so while their friendship made complete sense in the comic, it seemed almost dysfunctional in the movie version.

Despite the differences between the movie and the comic, Ghost World in both forms has the same overall tone and feel, something that was probably pretty difficult to achieve. The story they chose to tell is different in the movie but the way they told it felt very close to the original. Both the movie and the comic book are quirky, unique, and pretty unforgettable. I agree with this piece in the A.V.Club when it says that “Ghost World is remarkable in that it’s fundamentally about the slow death of a friendship, which expires very gradually over the course of the entire movie without ever quite receiving the last rites.” The movie is definitely worth watching (if you can look past Johansson’s performance) but for me the comic wins out on this one.

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