Edward Scissorhands (1990)

19 Feb


Smith’s Verdict: ***

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

“Edward Scissorhands,” a weird fantasy fable by Tim Burton, has a unique and intriguing premise that begins with one gimmick, which is that the main character has scissors for hands. The premise is this: A young man named Edward was created in a mansion near a small town by a loving inventor, but the inventor died before he could finish his creation with hands. He is left “unfinished” with his scissors for hands. One day, Edward is found by a local woman, who brings him home and offers hospitality, and he becomes the talk of the town. This is an engaging premise and “Edward Scissorhands” plays it with magic realism and a real charm to it.

Johnny Depp stars as the title character, and it’s a more-than-successful creation. Sporting a fright wig, a plaintive expression, and a pure innocence within him, it is impossible not to care for Edward, played wonderfully by Depp. And as for those scissor-hands, it’s a great sight gag, even if it doesn’t make a lot of sense as a metaphor (if that’s what Burton was going for).

Edward has been living in the mansion alone ever since the death of his inventor (the fantastic Vincent Price, seen in flashbacks). His hands are the one aspect that the inventor was never able to create for him, leaving him with long, sharp razorblades. One day, he is found by the Avon saleswoman, Peg (Dianne Wiest), who feels sympathy towards this man and invites him to live at her home in the neighborhood nearby. When he’s there, he adapts to suburban life, becomes the talk of the street, impresses everybody with his skills with his hands (he can make gigantic hedge animals and give haircuts to the local women and their dogs), and also begins to fall in love with Peg’s teenage daughter Kim (Winona Ryder).

This is no ordinary neighborhood, mind you. This looks and feels like something out of a comic book or an animated sitcom. I admire the visual style that Burton shows throughout this film—every film he makes seems to turn our everyday world into something resembling a fairy tale, for example. But there is one thing that kind of bugs me. The early scenes that the strangeness of this movie’s suburban world, with the bright colored visuals (houses with bright paint colors and people dressed in practical-Technicolor, looking an awful lot like “Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure”), don’t leave us with that much wonder when we see the amazing-looking garden at the mansion—wonderful set design, with hedge animals and bright flowers. And thus, once we leave the mansion with Edward, the world just gets even stranger. That being said, I have to ask, wouldn’t it be more interesting to have Edward’s world collide with the real world? This is not the real world—this is a strange world in which the Avon lady looks at a creepy-looking mansion up on a hill and thinks there will be someone there who could use her materials, and just walks around the place and looks around for someone, saying “Avon calling.”  And some really strange people, too—the women in this weird neighborhood make “Steel Magnolias” look like a soap opera. At least the teenagers are normal enough, and react how anyone would react to a man with scissors for hands. Although, come to think of it, that means they’re less funny.

But here’s my major problem with “Edward Scissorhands” that almost kills the movie. It’s not that all the townspeople turn against Edward when they see how dangerous he can be with those scissor-hands, even if he doesn’t intend to hurt people. I get that; it’s like “Frankenstein,” which Tim Burton sort-of satirizes here. But that’s enough. Just give us the mob of local folks as a catalyst for conflict. And that brings us to the unnecessary, unwelcome addition to the villain role—Kim’s jealous, hostile, and unbelievably dull boyfriend Jim (Anthony Michael Hall). Good Lord, is this guy boring. We know that Jim is going to be jealous of Edward being in love with Kim, and know just about everything that he’s planning to do. Every time he shows up, I groan. No thought went into this character at all and it leads to a boring climax—a fight between hands and scissors.

There are enough things that “Edward Scissorhands” does right that I can marginally recommend it, despite that aforementioned boring element. I’ve already mentioned Depp’s great performance as the immensely-appealing Edward, but there’s also the sweetness that envelops around Winona Ryder. She does a really good job as Kim, who sometimes seems like the only person capable of loving Edward. The best, most touching moment in the movie is when she finds him and says, “Hold me.” Edward tries, but is too afraid of hurting her—“I can’t,” he says miserably. So, she helps him to let him hold her. That is a beautiful moment, and so is the sequence in which Edward uses his blades to scrape a giant ice block in such a way that it looks as if it’s snowing on Kim. The Danny Elfman music score in both scenes is very effective.

The first half is engaging in its weirdness of the locations and the characters, and lead to some nice sight gags and funny lines of dialogue—I love the bit in which Edward carves up some meat and offers some to one of Kim’s friends at the dinner table, and she says, “I can’t eat that—you used your hands.” I don’t even care about logic in this world, so I don’t even question how Edward is able to make shrubbery sculptures where no shrubs should ever grow. That’s just the kind of world this is. It’s a fantasy; deal with it.

There’s enough love and imagination to the making of “Edward Scissorhands” that I am recommending the movie for its strong, charming points. Sure, I hate the grudging boyfriend character and I kind of wish the ending was more about dealing with problems and accepting them, instead of resorting to an automatic fight scene. But until that point, the film is as innocent and appealing as the main character.

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