COFFEE AT THE MOVIES EPISODE 4: GHOST WORLD
Terry Zwigoff’s 2001 cult classic Ghost World depicts the gradual unravelling of a friendship set amidst the desolate expanse of a washed-out Los Angeles. Ostensibly a pseudo love story between Thora Birch’s self-styled outcast Enid and introverted, awkward loner Seymour (Steve Buscemi), the real heart of the narrative plays out on the sidelines as Enid’s friendship with Becky (Scarlett Johansson) breaks up in slow motion over the course of the summer after high school.
While Enid resists the pull of adulthood any way she can (refusing to find work, hanging out with weirdos) Becky gets a job at a Starbucks-esque coffee chain called The Coffee Experience and starts looking for an apartment. Their paths begin to diverge with the appearance of Seymour in their orbit, as he begins to replace Becky in Enid’s eccentric life.
The scene in The Coffee Experience, after Enid forces Seymour to visit a sex shop and buy her a Batgirl mask, is the point in the film where Becky and Enid’s friendship really begins to dissolve. It also sums up their differing priorities: Becky is working a dead-end job she hates in order to support herself, while Enid is content to mooch off her father as long as she can and spend her time goofing off.
One exchange in particular encapsulates this split: after Enid comments on how she thinks the annoying customer who games the trivia question with his computer is cool, Becky says, “You’ll see, you get totally sick of all the creeps and losers and weirdos.” “But those are our people!” Enid replies. “Yeah, well,” says Becky with a shrug.
It’s a beautifully written and acted scene, with Johansson in particular using body language and a monotone to show how far Becky has come. She’s moved on from their high school days of making fun of everyone around them, and is now just irritated by them.
Anyone who has ever worked for a coffee chain - Caffè Nero, myself - knows how soul crushing it can be, and how soon you tire of the creeps and losers and weirdos. Ghost World sums up that feeling in one scene better than any other film I can think of.
The movie is understandably focused more on Enid’s odd-couple romance with the almost glaringly introverted Seymour, but the most affecting aspect of the story is undoubtedly the disintegrating relationship between the two childhood friends.
We’ve all had friendships that have sputtered out for whatever reason, and it’s rare to see a movie treat this experience with such subtlety and credibility. It happens slowly, over the course of the narrative, without ever erupting into all out conflict. They just gradually drift apart, as people do.
It is to the film’s great credit that this drift happens in the background, gently, while the more conventional love story - if any relationship that involves characters like these can be called conventional - takes centre stage.
It is only at the end that the consequences of Enid and Becky’s fallout become clear, and their seemingly innocuous interaction in the coffee shop begins to take on greater significance.