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‘Edward Scissorhands’

By Rita Kempley
Washington Post Staff Writer
December 14, 1990


Tim Burton
Johnny Depp;
Winona Ryder;
Dianne Wiest;
Anthony Michael Hall;
Alan Arkin;
Vincent Price;
Kathy Baker;
Conchata Ferrell
Children under 13 should be accompanied by a parent

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"Edward Scissorhands" is enchantment on the cutting edge, a dark yet heartfelt portrait of the artist as a young mannequin from the creator of "Beetlejuice," "Pee-wee's Big Adventure" and "Batman." Tim Burton remains the Wizard of Odd with this eye-filling if problematic confection.

The willingly bedazzled -- children and those who see through children's eyes -- won't mind that "Edward," like Burton's other films, attends less to story than to situation. They'll delight in the pastel camp of the setting, a '50s subdivision sprung seemingly from nowhere and nestled improbably against a Munsters-style mansion. There on the edge of civilization, if suburbia can be so called, dwells our poor hero, unfinished and all alone. His inventor (Vincent Price), a Victorian sort, died just as he was about to replace Edward's 10 bristling shears with human hands.

Edward is a disarming waif with his white Kabuki makeup and wild nest of coal-black hair, and his mild-mannered temperament is directly at odds with his deformity. Johnny Depp, nicely cast, brings the eloquence of the silent era to this part of few words, saying it all through bright black eyes and the tremulous care with which he holds his horror-movie hands.

But Edward's dilemma is far more complex than it first seems, for his handicap and his talent are of a piece. Though he cannot so much as dry a tear from his eye, he can sculpt ice angels, toss salads, clip poodles and hedges. He is the Edward Gorey of hair and topiary. By virtue of his scissorhands he can touch others, but only through his art.

Then one robin's-egg-colored day the Avon Lady comes calling. Marching intrepidly through the cobwebs and with the can-do of a sitcom mom, Peg Boggs (Dianne Wiest) decides to bring him home. Wiest is as radiant and kind as the Good Witch Glinda. Having mothered "The Lost Boys," she is already practiced at dealing with odd teenagers. A practical sort, she believes that the right makeup and a nice meatloaf can change not only Edward's life but, well, the whole darn world. Yet no matter what shade of foundation Peg tries, she can't make Edward into a normal boy. He remains like the Little Mermaid or "Crocodile" Dundee, out of his element, source of the film's larky comedy.

Borrowing a chapter from another fable, Burton and first-time screenwriter Caroline Thompson create a Beauty to test their Beast. Winona Ryder plays this duplicitous love interest, Kim, a golden coed whose jealous boyfriend (Anthony Michael Hall, performing with the subtlety of the John Philip Sousa marching band) finally brings matters to a surprisingly violent turn.

Like most fairy tales, "Edward Scissorhands" has its dark side. And Burton's faithfulness to that aspect of myth seems reasonable enough, though it won't sit well with those who want happy endings. It begins, after all, as a tale about where snow comes from, and snow belongs to the saddest season.

Framed as a bedtime story told by an ancient Kim (Ryder with latex jowls), it opens with a wintry flurry. When Edward carves ice, the flakes fly like crystals in a snow globe. Sometimes, the old woman says, she dances in the snow as she did when she was a girl. What she never does is redeem herself for the wrongs she did Edward. In fact nothing is resolved or concluded in this throwing up of hands.

Edward, a victim of a woman scorned and other neighborhood hens, is the censored artist, obsessive as van Gogh in "Vincent and Theo," miserable as the author in "Misery." Another tale of a man and his muse, "Edward Scissorhands" seems to say it is better to work alone in a garret making true art than to prostitute one's scissors.

© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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