Misfit teens Enid and Rebecca crave independence but find their options severely limited. Drifting restlessly they pour scorn on all around them, until Enid develops a fascination for oddball Seymour.
Daniel Clowes' now-classic comic art creation, Ghost World, has been one of the most interesting graphic novels of the last decade, capturing sarcastic teen angst and commenting on the collapse of modern culture, no less, with mordant humour, well-drawn poignance and acutely realistic dialogue.
His 18-year-old protagonists Enid and Rebecca - revolted by the cheesiness, phoniness and greyness of peers, parents and environment - are sneering, smart-aleck soul sisters to J.D. Salinger's icon of disaffected youth, Holden Caulfield.
Director Zwigoff, whose work includes acclaimed documentary Crumb, has adapted their search for a place in the world as a brightly cartoon-coloured but melancholy comedy whose tone is dangerously balanced between edgy satire and sulky despair. The first release from John Malkovich's production company, Mr. Mudd, this is a bold venture that is more admirable than, perhaps, it is appealing.
We are not expected to love these girls for their ridicule of the eccentrics, creeps and losers they perceive around them, nor for the mean pranks they conceive in their immature boredom as stalkers of the sad and lonely.
Irresistible, however, is the keenly observed awfulness of consumerism, fashion and obsessive record, comics and video collectors. Also under the microscope is half-assed feminist political correctness, in the shape of Enid's ex-hippie art teacher (a hilarious Douglas).
Performances are spot-on. Birch stretches her pouty, unhappy adolescent schtick to convey the complexities of the self-loathing Enid, while Buscemi's record enthusiast looking for love in a heinous green cardie is as touching and real as he is a comical turn-off.
A world away from American Pie, this is 'teen comedy' of startling sophistication - with horribly funny bits. A true original, with sharp humour, subtle detail and painfully realistic characters.