Sunday, 7 July 2013

Alternate Best Actor 1994: Johnny Depp in Ed Wood

Johnny Depp did not receive an Oscar nomination, despite being nominated for a Golden Globe, for portraying Edward D. Wood Jr. in Ed Wood.

Johnny Depp is an actor I am not the biggest fan of and this is not helped by the way he has recently devolved into lazy self indulgent performances in a fashion like Jack Nicholson although without Nicholson's level of talent, or his legacy of great performances. This is not to say Depp is incapable of a good performance though. Depp here plays the part of Ed Wood in a flamboyant fashion, but then again he is playing the man proclaimed as the worst director of all time as well as a man who often dressed in women's clothing because they made him feel comfortable.

Depp sets this performance up with the proposition of a character of almost constant optimism. This is not to say that the character does not suffer highs and lows, but the basis of Depp's performance is that Wood will always look on the up side of life. Honestly this was the right approach for the role of Ed Wood as if he was a guy who really took every failure to heart this would become one depressing picture very quickly. Depp's approach though prevents this from happening with the constant enthusiasm he brings to the part, even when Wood has nothing to be happy about.

This is not nearly as simple as it might sound though as even though Depp keeps this act up throughout he also avoids the problems that could have easily have come from such a style. Depp most importantly is always genuine in this style. He never tries to make Wood a parody in this behavior, rather he is always earnest in Wood's refusal to be pessimistic. Doing this actually makes it funnier, and allows Wood to be an endearing character through his always bright and always hopeful expression that follows just about any let down including when he is told one of his films was the worst a film executive ever saw.

The overarching feelings of Depp's characterization is this hope and he importantly shows where at least part of this comes from. It is a strange idea for Wood to keep making these movies even though few want to watch them, and even fewer have anything nice to say about them. Depp makes it quite clear that the reason above else for Wood's movie making is his love of doing it. Depp never is down in the filming scenes, and he honestly really sells Wood as a man who just adores what he is doing, and really can barely notice that he is bad at it. Depp manages to explain why he doesn't stop, or even notice that he is terrible at it because Depp's portrayal of Wood's dedication to his "art" is that of pure passion.

What Depp does importantly though is he actually isn't one note as Wood, despite Wood always being upbeat. Yes Wood is always up beat in at least some way, but that does not mean that Depp portrays him as always exactly the same. Depp manages to show that Wood does suffer from set back and problems, and he will be brought down by them even though he will never become completely depressed. Depp is able to show that the optimism in Wood is the overarching factor of Ed Wood as man, but still properly portrays that he can still feel down at times. The key though is Depp never shows the optimism ever going away and that the element in the man is a constant that even when he is down it will not take much to make him happy again.

Now Depp's performance is not the best performance in this film that obviously belongs to Martin Landau's masterful work as Bela Lugosi. Depp though knows how to play off of Landau's incredible performance by taking the right place in their scenes together. Depp handles these scenes very nicely by once again being genuine this time the genuine feelings are that of adoration Wood feels to his idol. Their scenes really are quite poignant together as Landau in such a heartbreaking fashion portrays the last end of a one great star, but Depp properly counterpoints this by showing an undying dedication of a fan who could never give up on this man no matter how far he has fallen. The relationship is made surprisingly heartfelt and entirely authentic by Landau and Depp.

Depp's way of usually going out on a limb with his performances does not work when it seems just purely self indulgence or it is rather misplaced such as his performance as Willy Wonka which poorly uses some of the mannerisms that he utilizes here. Depp's performance this time absolutely works for Ed Wood as a character that. Not only does it make his character work, but his performance also makes the film work as well as it does. The film would have been quite problematic if Wood as character ever seemed aware of his abilities as a filmmaker, or even as well if he just simply was just a simple one note comedic device. Depp though finds the right tone for his performance to allow him to be amusing as Ed Wood, but as well actually makes him into someone that we can relate to and sympathize with even in his sometimes rather peculiar plights.

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

I've been meaning to watch this for a while but I've never got around to it.

Lezlie said...

I'm glad he got a good rating from you for this :)
I know many of you here hate him very much, but I don't. I don't think he's a bad actor, not at all, I think he just has a tendency to choose bad movies, or ones where doesn't really invest enough into his character. I'm very sad where his carreer has been going lately, and I'll be curious where will he be in 10-15 years (when he'll be over 60). I kinda imagine he will be a bit of a Jeff Bridges-type. Off topic, who's seen teh Great Gatsby so far, and what is DiCaprio like in it? And anybody else waiting anxiously for the Wolf of Wall Street? :P Sorry for the long post. Cheers.

koook160 (Robert MacFarlane) said...

I'm afraid to ask, but... are you going to review him for Edward Scissorhands? I fucking LOVE that performance, but it doesn't seem like something you'd like.

Lezlie said...

Second that koook.

Anonymous said...

Lezlie: Haven't seen Great Gatsby, but my friends did. They liked it a lot. I can't WAIT for Wolf of Wall Street.

Fisti said...

@Lezlie:

Gatsby was sadly rather bad, and DiCaprio isn't really that good in it, but Wolf of Wall Street looks exceptional and he looks great in the trailer so I'm anxious for it to get here.

Back to topic, this is one of Depp's finest performances. It makes me sad to watch his 90's work and realize that he only went DOWNHILL as he became a household name. Selling out to Disney was the worst thing he could have ever done. Sure, it made him a star and earned him a ton of money, but between Ed Wood, Benny and Joon, Donnie Brasco and Edward Scissorhands, Depp could have continued his road towards being one of the greatest actors of his generation. Instead, he tossed that goal aside for some extra money.

Louis Morgan said...

Lezlie: Haven't seen Gatsby, and I can't say I'm in all that much of a hurry to either. I am very much interested in Wolf of Wall Street though.

koook: Well I might review him, he's not a guarantee, but I am in no way opposed to reviewing that performance.