Edward Scissorhands
First screened in Winter 1991 / Reviewed in Winter 1998 / Most recently screened in Winter 2009
Director: Tim Burton. Cast: Johnny Depp, Winona Ryder, Dianne Wiest, Alan Arkin, Anthony Michael Hall, Kathy Baker, Vincent Price, Caroline Aaron, O-Lan Jones, Robert Oliveri. Screenplay: Caroline Thompson.
Photo © 1990 20th Century Fox
Edward Scissorhands is a charming, utterly original fable with a darkness that would be surprising in a relatively mainstream release were it not the work of Tim Burton, the hobgoblin director behind Beetlejuice, Mars Attacks!, and the first two Batman movies. The title says it all, with Johnny Depp starring as an undead-looking but sweet-tempered boy created by Vincent Price, gamely riffing on his own spook-house image as a genially mad inventor who lives as a recluse in a lonely castle overlooking sunny suburbia. The scissors that constitute Edward's hands were the last vestiges of the mechanical framework over which Price laid Edward's "human" material, but were left unfinished when the old guy died of a heart attack right in front of Edward.

Thus the boy is left on his own in the castle's attic until—who else?—the Avon lady, Peg Boggs (Dianne Wiest), comes calling and discovers his solitary lifestyle. Only briefly deterred by Edward's skittishness and scarred face (evidence of what, in any normal person, would constitute fluttering a hand or resting a cheek in a palm), Peg takes Edward back to her cookie-cutter household, determined to install him not only as a "regular" and accepted member of her family but as a proud and proudly-received addition to her rather insular community of gossips, snoops, and bizarre Tim Burton-style "neighbors."

Edward Scissorhands presents this outlandishly strange premise with a gentleness worthy of Edward himself. Burton and screenwriter Caroline Thompson, who later directed the remake of The Black Stallion, demonstrate how Edward is just an extreme metaphor for the gangliness and isolation experienced by most adolescents. Kim, the daughter of the Boggs family (played by Winona Ryder, in an obviously false and unflattering blondish wig), is a popular beauty-queen among her school set, but she isn't any happier than Edward is. Besides, she doesn't even seem to have a special trait or reliably unique skill. At least her new "brother" can cut hair, clip hedges, and provide excellent show-and-tell material for her younger sibling.

The romance, or quasi-romance, that buds between Edward and Kim is easily the least interesting component of this picture, which has much more going for it in the buoyant comic performances of Depp, Wiest, and Alan Arkin as Mr. Boggs, as well as in the eye-poppingly vivid colors and fanciful designs of Bo Welch's art direction. (Welch created comparably memorable havens in 1996's The Birdcage and 1997's Men in Black.) The last few chapters of Edward Scissorhands are paced and edited rather abruptly, as though Edward himself had spliced the film in one of his nervous, snip-snippy fits, but the sizable risks and tender heart of this improbable story carry it through its rough patches. Who knows if Burton corresponds more in his own mind to the introverted, misunderstood, and crazily-coiffed Edward or to Price's inventive, pleasant, off-center Inventor. If the latter is Burton's primary identification in the film, he can at least rest assured that his film may be flawed but only in minor ways, and that Edward Scissorhands should coax from all but the most unfeeling audiences the very interest and affection that Edward himself is desperate to receive. Grade: B+


Academy Award Nominations:
Best Makeup: Ve Neill and Stan Winston

Golden Globe Nominations:
Best Actor (Musical/Comedy): Johnny Depp

Other Awards:
British Academy Awards (BAFTAs): Best Art Direction (Bo Welch)

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