I realized while watching this film that I enjoyed it a lot more when it was called “Ghost World”; Leelee Sobieski is a talented actor, as is Albert Brooks, but when the story is summed up as a whole it’s just a batch of clichés from many other better films meshed into one entire mess. Sobieski as talented an actress as she is fails to strike a chord with her character and actually comes off as a terrible actress, which is not true when analyzing many of her past films. She attempts to pull off the Goth, annoyed teen angst persona with much desperation, which is evident while watching her try with the material she’s given, but it’s hard to enjoy her when her character is so unlikable and detestable. I would have preferred to sympathize with her character’s personality but its hard to when we see her living situation.
She has a basically ditzy but loving and adoring mother, a harmless stepfather who do nothing but try to talk to her yet she rejects and isolates herself from them; right off the beginning we wonder what she’s so angry about when her family is basically likable. She, instead, comes off as a whiney and exceedingly spoiled child who is just angry with the world. The writing is very sloppy because it never gives us a reason to like her, and never gives us a view into why she’s so angry or bitter; instead it’s seeming that she’s just spoiled. We get these glimpses into her dark and Gothic personality which also becomes tiresome and very cliché. The descriptions of her life felt like script passages and snippits from other films including “Girl”, “Tart”, and many other movies dealing with teen angst. Also, I think there were some aspects borrowed from the series “Daria”.
There’s your basic formulaic angry life that every teen girl experiences in these types of films; she’s poetic, dark, contemplates suicide, has a weird but loving family that she doesn’t appreciate, and she’s extremely rebellious. Her character is broadly developed to the point where she’s still a stranger in the end; by the middle we’re asking what is she so angry about? It’s never explained to a truly deep extent. The script would have seemed enjoyable had her character been able to spout any dialogue even remotely charming or spunky. When she meets Brooks’ character for the first time it’s odd more than it is charming because after he coldly rejects her plead for a job she replies with a lame comeback that might have seemed funny if delivered by an actress that would have fit the role better.
I was really taken with the second half of the film which tends to take a gentler and tender side to the characters and situation. In many respects it resembled “Life as a House” when as an ailing Kevin Kline lays in the hospital, his son attempts to finish his house, it’s the same when Brooks’ ailing character lies in the hospital as J attempts to find his wife to ease him into death. It’s contrives but ultimately managed to save the film from going into the dumpster. Albert Brooks is a truly charming actor in this and manages to make his character one of the most likable in the story often presenting inept sarcasm and wit. He tends to steal the scenes from Sobieski who tries her hardest to keep up with him. Desmond Harrington is put to very good use as a potentially good character. I describe him as “potentially” good because he’s broadly developed and under developed throughout the course of the film.
I would have liked to see Harrington’s relationship develop with his father and would have appreciated a lot of study into the two meeting for the first time. As under-used as he is, he’s a truly great actor who often manages to save potentially bad movies (ala Wrong Turn, and Ghost Ship) and I would have appreciated seeing him more often. The funny Carol Kane does what she can with the role she’s given pulling off the ditzy and eccentric mother role to a hilt. The plot is pretty predictable at best which defeats the purpose of watching; we know she’s bitter, we know she’ll meet someone and change the way she looks, we know that Randall has a son, and we know they’ll eventually fall in love. Blah. For a story that’s supposed to be bright, there’s a lot of unnecessary dreary settings and moods attached to this that sticks out like a sore thumb; even at it’s most touching and emotionally high moments its still dreary.
Also, a lot of the situations depicted through the mind of Jennifer is so goofy when clearly intended to be humorous; there’s even one nauseating scene where Jennifer envisions Brooks’ character parading in stylish clothing in a night club. Lastly, there’s some truly talented actors that basically have nothing to do in the film except act in thankless roles. There’s the hilarious Carol Kane who plays the mom in a small meaningless role, Michael McKeon who has three scenes total, John Goodman who’s in the film for a walk-on role but has no impact upon the story, and the talented Desmond Harrington who appears for the second half of the film as a broadly developed character with little to no emphasis on him or his relationship with the Brooks’ character. Terrible script, terrible plot, clichés and plot holes galore, and an under – used talented cast all saved by the forte of the charming Albert Brooks and Desmond Harrington who save the second half.