November 21, 2015
Edward Scissorhands (1990)
Grade: 66/100

Director: Tim Burton
Stars: Johnny Depp, Winona Ryder, Dianne Wiest

What it's about. Robot man-child Edward (Johnny Depp) lives alone in the creepy mansion on the hill. His inventor, Vincent Price, died before he could attach his hands, and instead Edward has huge, unwieldy scissors for hands. Edward is discovered by local Avon lady Dianne Wiest, who takes the obliging Edward home to live with her family, which includes dufus husband Alan Arkin, stereotypical preteenaged boy Kevin (Robert Oliveri), and pretty teenaged daughter Winona Ryder, whose reaction to Edward is always emotional and increasingly romantic.

But Ryder already has a boyfriend, Anthony Michael Hall, at first an Eddie Haskell type but later burdened with sociopathic motivations. Ryder and Hall's bewildering behavior eventually alienate Edward from the suburban housewives who toast his scissor-handed skills at topiary, pet grooming, and hair styling.

How others will see it. Edward Scissorhands was a solid commercial success for director Burton, and a further confirmation (following Batman (1989) that his surreal and macabre style could meet what the public wanted. In retrospect, the film may have provided the crest of his reputation, since public taste inevitably proved fickle.

The movie picked up a smattering of sundry festival awards. Most significant among them, as it turned out, was the Best Actor nod at the Golden Globes for Depp's offbeat performance. He hasn't looked back since.

Today at, the movie has a huge 335K user votes and a lofty 8.0 user rating. Young women like the movie best (8.4 out of 10) while older men (7.5 out of 10) are least appreciative. Perhaps some of them identify more with Anthony Michael Hall than his hapless romantic rival.

How I felt about it. In the spring of 1990, Cry-Baby (1990) was released. Johnny Depp played the misfit lead, the first of many such roles in his career. At the time, it seemed that he was cast against type: he had the looks of, well, a matinée idol, and he seemed normal, even Midwestern in his modesty and indifference to fashion.

Thus it is no surprise that this film's director, Tim Burton, tried to cast his titular character with someone, anyone, else, even Tom Cruise, before Depp got the part. Since Cry-Baby was a flop, it was Edward Scissorhands that made Depp an A-list moviestar, and established him as the well-intentioned outsider who could never fit in, no matter how hard he tried.

Poor Edward. If only he had a good set of hands, then he could have been the beloved Boggs family pet for generations. Even with his impressive set of transportable cutlery, things might have worked out fine if it wasn't for that darn antagonist, Anthony Michael Hall. Couldn't he have stayed on "Saturday Night Live" and not been so obsessive about playing Bonnie and Clyde with Winona Ryder?

There are several ways to evaluate this movie. Is it a tragedy? A horror flick? A romance? A drama? But apart from Hall's disturbing character, Edward Scissorhands appears to be a satire of 1970s suburban society, despite the offhand references to CD and VHS players. The men leave to work their unseen 9 to 5 jobs, and the wives stay home, forming a a shallow, frivolous, and judgmental clique.

But there are some differences among them. The religious nut (O-Lan Jones) is barely tolerated. The nymphomaniac (Kathy Baker) is their instigator. Kathy Bates writes their platform. Dianne Wiest has a middling position in the housewife pecking order, and serves mostly as a subject for gossip and back-stabbing criticism. Too nice to participate in their gamesmanship, she is also sufficiently naive to regard the other ladies as her friends.

After Wiest makes the unusual decisions to visit the spooky mansion and bring home its meek but potentially dangerous occupant, residents of the suburb view Edward from their own narrow viewpoints. To the children, he is a freak, but cool. The teens see him as something strange and weird, first to be feared, then mocked. Edward's adoptive father, Alan Arkin, wants to raise him as a son. Wiest wants to mother him, and eventually, Ryder wants to love him. The housewives wish Edward to become the local celebrity artiste, at least until Anthony Michael Hall exploits his lockpicking skills as an unwitting member of his criminal gang. Then, Edward becomes a dark and troubled figure, a menace to be chased off like the Bogeyman.

It seems that nobody ever asked Edward what he wanted. But then again, he hardly knows himself. He is eager to be shaped by others, because he seeks acceptance. But since every person demands something different from him, he can't please everyone, and ultimately can't please anyone. Message board chatter notes that Edward is like Michael Jackson, an eccentric talent who was alternately celebrated, ridiculed, and reviled following false accusations. The difference is that Jackson's tragic death provided positive closure in public opinion, while Edward lives in infamy.