It’s interesting how Ed Wood, perhaps Tim Burton’s best film, is a picture that subdues much of the auteur’s signature style in favor of off-beat comedy and truly quirky characters (take that Wes Anderson). It doesn’t even feature a Danny Elfman score! Johnny Depp plays the titular character, the infamous “Worst Director of All-Time” and the film chronicles his life in Hollywood as well as his relationship with Bela Legosi (Martin Landau).
Indeed Burton’s style is at play here, but it’s more sniffing around the edges of the film than barking in your face. Burton’s best films have always favored personal investment. Many of his latest efforts have been suffocated by his overbearing style, lacking the heart beating in his best work. It is through Ed Wood (perhaps Depp’s greatest on-screen performance) that Burton clearly finds his inspiration, painting a gorgeous love letter to films, filmmaking, following your dreams, and the endearing B-movie schlock of the 1950s. Even the film’s spectacular black and white cinematography is often composed and lit to look like a film straight from the time period.
Ed Wood, although a real man, is a character straight from Tim Burton’s playbook. He’s off-beat and outcast. Depp plays him with an infinite optimism and vigorous work ethic (even if he refuses to shoot a second take for any scene). Sometimes he wears lady’s clothing. He’s the outcast following his dream no matter what, completing his Citizen Kane (Plan 9 From Outer Space) by film’s end. Around Wood are a host of varied and brilliant characters, but Martin Landau as Bela Legosi shines brightest.
Ed Wood might be a comedy (and it is certainly that) full of absurdity and focusing on a hopelessly untalented director. But, out of left field, it is eminently touching. Wood’s relationship with the “washed up” Legosi, still so full of a hidden vibrancy and theatrical flair, gives the film an enormous emotional core. Ed Wood may be shot with rose-tinted lenses but its championing of passion and “misfits” looking out for one another is felt in spades.