Finally, a Tim Burton movie worth giving a shit about. I've never been shy about my distaste for the work of Tim Burton. Whether it was Edward Scissorhands, Big Fish, Beetlejuice, or his Batman movies, I don't understand why he's such a revered director. His movies are always visually impressive, but on a storytelling level I have found all of them to be lacking. But I hadn't seen all of his movies, and I had been told for years that Ed Wood was the movie to see that would prove what kind of director Burton was. Well, it is. It's a terrific movie filled with wonderful performances by a great cast, top notch visuals, and a good story. The snarky side of me wants to say that it seems like Burton really threw himself into this one, probably because he could personally relate to a story about a terrible director.
But Ed Wood wasn't just any terrible director, he has been routinely called "the worst director ever". Johnny Depp is better than he's ever been as the Orson Welles worshiping Ed, who is so caught up in the spirit of filmmaking that he doesn't care that he's no good. That's not the point, the point is that he's making movies. When a studio executive tells him that Wood's movie was the worst he'd ever seen, Ed's response is a cheerful "Well, my next one will be better." Ed also has to admit to his girlfriend Delores (Sarah Jessica Parker) that he enjoys crossdressing. He continually (and hilariously) has to explain to everyone that he's not gay, he just likes the feel of the fabric. He surrounds himself with equally weird people, like the hopeful pre-op transexual Bunny (Bill Murray) and wrestler-turned-actor Tor Johnson (played by legendary wrestler George "The Animal" Steele). They make movies together alongside Ed's newest friend Bela Lugosi (Martin Landau), a childhood hero of Ed's. Lugosi is way on the downside of his career, and hopes Ed's movies will put him back on top (or at least above his old box office nemesis Boris Karloff). Ed uses what little star power that Lugosi has left to help get financing for his movies. Ed knew how to get his projects made, that's for sure. He was seemingly always able to find someone to invest in his work, never by showing them his previous work. And he cared whether his movies were bad or good, I'm just not sure he knew the difference.
Martin Landau won an Oscar for his role in 1994, in a year where he was up against some heavy hitters, including Gary Sinise in Forrest Gump and Samuel L. Jackson in Pulp Fiction. Landau deservedly won. His performance is one of heartbreaking sadness, of a man near the end of his life, addicted to morphine and desperately hoping to get back to his previous stardom. Thankfully, since this movie is a comedy, Landau is also hysterical. When one of the crew members asks for his autograph, he happily accepts, but when the guy tells him his favorite movie was one in which he played Karloff's sidekick, Lugosi responds with "Karloff? Sidekick? FUCK YOU! Karloff did not deserve to smell my shit! That limey cocksucker can rot in Hell for all I care!" There's not a lot of language in the movie like that, but when there is it's usually coming from Lugosi.
So after now seeing all of Burton's movies, this is actually one that I would thoroughly defend. I liked Sleepy Hollow and Sweeney Todd, but not a lot. Not enough to say that I'm a fan of those movies necessarily. But Ed Wood is nearly a great movie. With a career best performance from Depp, and one of the great supporting performances of all time from Landau, Ed Wood is one that I wouldn't hesitate to recommend to anyone looking for a comedy that's just a little bit different.