Tuesday, October 25, 2022

Off-Season Watch: Edward Scissorhands (1990)

Watched:  10/24/2022
Format:  Disney+
Viewing:  Third
Director:  Tim Burton

My recollection of Edward Scissorhands (1990) was that it was... fine.  It was never my favorite film by Tim Burton or otherwise.  I'm certain I saw it on the heels of the success of Batman and with reflective goodwill earned by that movie (in my mind at the time).  

It was probably also my actual introduction to the Tim Burton aesthetic and ethos.  I didn't get around to Beetlejuice til after 1995 when Jamie showed it to me (I have no real recollection of how I missed it the first time around).  But at roughly 15 years old, I believe my brother and I saw Edward Scissorhands during holiday break when we more or less would go to the movies almost every other day.  And by this point the trailers and whatnot would have pinged off me and been appealing.

In college, one of my roommates opined that "it would be nice if Tim Burton could tell a story", and at the time I was like "what are you talking about?" because we were watching Batman Returns and that is clearly art.*  But upon reflection - I usually only watch a Tim Burton film once, if at all.  I'm probably batting only a .650 with his overall output and I only really rewatch Batman films and NBXM.

And this movie, which is a Christmas movie (I mentioned before it started and was rebuffed), is one I watched once in the theater, once at someone's house when it was on, and never watched again after high school.  I recalled thinking "well, it didn't really *do* anything" or however one reacts in high school to movies with a deeply muddled third act and hinging on a romance that is never established.  

What folks remember - rightfully - is the amazing aesthetic of the movie, which continues to blow me away, and even more so knowing it's practical and optical effects.  Co-opting a new subdivision in Florida for the movie shoot and mixing and matching mid-Century with 1990 standards was (chef's kiss).  Of course the castle/ factory is dynamite Burton-sketch come to life, but the hard-earned visual of suburban conformity (a thing some people cared about back in 1990!  Can't say I see that anywhere now, which is SUPER WEIRD) is astounding.  Add in the costuming, absurd hair styling and addition of Alan Arkin, and you've got some gold.

Johnny Depp** absolutely does a thing, and I appreciate it.  It works.  And that aspect is earned way more than I recalled - with the "childhood" featuring Vincent Price as a father figure supporting it.  He's good!  If a sorrowful mask of uncertainty is what you need - and here it is - then this was the right choice.  We can place ourselves in Edward's place - what is this strange place he's been brought to?  What are the rules everyone but he understands?  He's thought of as a cripple - but he *does* contain mortal danger just by existing.  It's a fascinating concept.  And the movie definitely wants to carry that through and explore it - what happens when, despite your best intentions, you hurt those you care for?  And how fast will those who propped you up and wanted to bask in your uniqueness turn on you?   

Look, Dianne Weist is amazing as always in this movie.  She's the heart, and she's sidelined for the third act while we muck about with what becomes a weirdly violent chain of events that seems imported from another film and a romance that seems more like a stalker getting wish fulfillment than anything earned by what we've seen.  And it's in service of a storyline that doesn't need to exist.  I'd argue that the movie needed for either a mother or daughter, but not both. Because how and why is anyone falling in love with Edward except as one would a sad puppy?  He never speaks and doesn't even really do anything except exist for people to project things onto.  And while, sure, a movie could be made about a high schooler placing unwarranted affection upon a cypher, this movie is not about that.  It tells us there was reciprocated, romantic love - while keeping Winona Ryder off-screen until maybe 1/4 or 1/3rd of the way in (and shelving Weist in the back 1/3rd).  

Frankly, Anthony Michael Hall's "Jim" is a dick, but not a murderous dick.  He actually has some of the best lines in the movie.  So the villainous heel turn - after establishing him as maybe the victim of abuse - is kinda weird.  I don't care how we don't want to hear his plans for a @#$%-van.

The movie also edges on some misogyny, depending on how you want to view a movie in which 75% of the characters, male and female, are satiric caricatures.  And we do have the aforementioned "Jim" as Burton's vision of a Chad to be the worst guy in town.  But in its own way, we know this film is a reflection of some aspect of Burton's Southern California younger years, and the presence of neighborhood moms being the voices to worry about sounds right if I remember the suburbs of the 1980's.  

I don't know entirely what the film wants from us other than uncritical sympathy for Edward, which... fair enough.  Edward is an innocent and even as he's staring wide-eyed at his world and rightfully baffled by the absurdities on display.  But the movie doesn't do enough to establish Kim and Edward - which is just weird based on the framing device, spending more time on the delightful Joyce character - which feels more textured and nuanced than even Kim's closet bad-girl.  But... so what?  What's the actual moral of the fairy tale?  It's clearly a condemnation of suburban conformity, but... okay.  We get that in the first few minutes.  What then?  That Edward is too good for this world?  That his specialness requires his isolation?  I'll be honest.  I'm not sure, as appealing as these ideas were when I was a pity-party-throwing teen.

The movie is entertaining.  It's not as satisfying as Beetlejuice, I still think Ed Wood is my favorite film by Burton, I am the guy who loves Mars Attacks, but as a movie that is, in retrospect, more or less a sort of autobiopic by Burton regarding his well-documented background.  But it also clearly carries with it some of his own baggage.  

And - this is actually a Christmas movie, not a Halloween movie.  So despite the fact Jamie is a "no Christmas til Thanksgiving is over" person, it was SHE who brought this upon us!

*that movie is a g-d mess but who doesn't like that cast?   

**look, I am not going to get into what a garbage person he is now in 2022

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