Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Edward Scissorhands (Burton. 1990)

"I'm not finished..."


Riddle me this: how is Tim Burton able to make a completely absurd character into a popular culture phenomenon? He is partly responsible for the success and popularity of Pee Wee Herman. He is the mastermind behind the disgustingly over-appreciated Jack Skellington. Burton is also the creator of one of 90s cinema’s most popular protagonists, Edward Scissorhands. With all of these characters under his belt, it is amazing that Burton finds time to make good movies…

Edward Scissorhands is, on the surface, a movie that tells its audience to not treat unusual people differently than they would want to be treated. A loveable Avon lady walks into an abandoned castle on the hill and finds that a robot-man thing named Edward has been living there alone for several years. She is virtually unresponsive to the fact that he has scissors instead of hands. “I’m not finished”, he says. “No kidding”, says the audience.

Edward is, to say the least, an incredibly bizarre character. He was built by a mad inventor (Vincent Price) who died before he was able to complete his design. This leaves Edward with a sold black body and elongated scissors instead of fingers. He was never taught anything about social protocol, but his imagination is active and wild. Edward has an excelled skill in trimming hedges and cutting hair – which makes sense. I mean, he has scissors for hands. He quickly becomes a local celebrity because of his peculiar look and interesting skills. I am not so sure that is what would really happen, but realism is pretty much trampled in this movie.

Playing a character like Edward was probably very difficult, so it makes perfect sense that Burton would cast one of the greatest character actors of our generation. Johnny Depp is confused, innocent and compelling in this role. If the film does anything right, it makes you feel for Edward. Depp does this role the right way. It is not about dialogue or attention. The conceptual ridiculousness is enough to keep the audience interested. He is subtle, naïve and simply perfect. It is a neat role, but that is still not enough to save the movie.

The Avon lady, Peg, oozes with maternal instinct. She is played by the two-time Academy Award winning Dianne Wiest with such bubbly charm that she almost makes the movie believable. She goes door to door every season selling, or trying to sell, make-up products to the local women in the town. Peg is seen as a person of little interest to the town until she is spotted with a strange visitor in the passenger seat of her car. This leads us to the first question about the story – why would she bring Edward home in the first place? I think, if not for any other reason, Peg automatically related to Edward because they are both seen as undesirable company. I think she wants to reach out and help a person in obvious need, but I also think she may be desperate for the company.

Peg does have a perfect little family who live in a ticky-tacky house in a ticky-tacky neighborhood. Her husband is a typical working stiff played by Alan Arkin. She has a son who brings very little weight to the storyline, and a daughter played by a young, pre-shoplifting, Winona Ryder. Adding Edward to the typical family mix does not force the same reaction that he audience would expect. They are relatively responsive to trying to assimilate the misunderstood robot-man thing. Edward falls in love with Kim (Ryder), which I find strange. Is Edward even human? How can he be in love with a human girl? It is kinda creepy. And Edward Scissorhands, as a movie, loses the tiniest shred of credibility that it had by having Kim fall in love with Edward. It doesn’t matter if Anthony Michael Hall is a tool – that love story would never happen.

When you travel a little bit below the surface it is easy to see that Edward Scissorhands is not a working satire. Yes, Edward is an unusual “person” who is sprung into a world that sees him as a side show. The reason the message does not work is because every other character in the movie is a poorly defined caricature of suburban people. Imagine if Charlie Chaplin’s Tramp went into a town where every man was just as out-of-place as him. Would that movie be worth a darn? No.

The most working aspect of Edward Scissorhands is the emotionally charged score by Danny Elfman. He has been criticized for being a repetitive composer – which is 100% true – but it is perfect for the movie. Eventually audiences got tired of hearing the same Elfman score over the same swooping-camera opening credits sequence that Burton insists on using in every movie he has ever made. Either way, the emotional build up of the final scene culminates with the compassionate, intense and stirring music. This should have been Elfman’s Oscar. I stand by that.

At the end of the day, Edward Scissorhands is a pretty decent movie. It’s not great, nor is it awful. If I have to spend two hours watching a movie I would rather watch something of a higher quality than Burton’s vision of loneliness and failed satire. It is important to have pop entertainment in your life. Sadly, this is just an average example of pop entertainment.

Edward Scissorhands: C+

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