Depp-led cult-director bio delves into cross-dressing, kink.
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A Lot or a Little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that this comedic look at a real-life movie eccentric has strong language and discussions of transvestism, homosexuality, and gender-reassignment surgery (viewers see the cross-dressing, but no surgery). Drinking, smoking, IV-drug use (not seen), and the death of real-life star Bela Lugosi come up in the plot. There's a threatened suicide by gun, and Wood and his cronies engage in unethical behavior to raise funds for their movies. Young viewers who become interested in Ed Wood through this film might learn that Wood's career ended in assorted forms of pornographic media and chronic alcoholism.
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What's the Story?
Occasionally a director becomes a folk hero for making exceptionally bad films. Ed Wood Jr. (1924-1978) directed consistently inept creature-feature and crime flicks. In the 1950s, Wood (Johnny Depp) is an aspiring director-writer-actor-playwright, making one stupefying project after another with a small entourage of L.A. fringe people, most prominently once-great actor Bela Lugosi (Martin Landau, in an Oscar-winning performance). Wood gets to do Glen or Glenda, an exploitation short feature on the hot topic of sex-change operations, by outing his own secret perversion -- a fetish for wearing women's clothing. Not even Lugosi's death stops Wood from including the old man in another project, the alien-zombie-invasion thrilller Plan 9 from Outer Space. Drawing his bizarre regulars together, raising money unethically, resurrecting Lugosi via stock footage and body doubles, and emboldened by a chance meeting with Orson Welles, Wood completes what is destined to be treasured as The Worst Movie Ever.
Is It Any Good?
If you happen to be an Ed Wood fanatic or a horror-trivia fiend, this film will please you. ED WOOD is less a straight biography than glorified highlights and loving, nostalgic re-creations of Wood and his black-and-white era, with some bits (meeting Welles, a gala premiere of Plan 9) that are history not as it was, but as Wood wished it had been.
If not, this film's appeal is rather limited, though there's contagious joy in how Depp and others put across the giddy thrill of the filmmaking process. Touching moments come from the mutually supportive relationship between Wood and the bottomed-out Lugosi, though young viewers more accustomed to F/X-filled spectacles from Depp/Burton collaborations might want more fantasy and action.
Talk to Your Kids About ...
Families can talk about notorious filmmaker Ed Wood. Does this depiction successfully make him into a hero, or does he come off as pathetic? Would Wood be considered a role model to anyone?
Talk about horror movies and their appeal. How are Wood's horror movies different from those in theaters today?
What makes a movie "good" or "bad"? How can something be unspeakably terrible and still wildly entertaining?
- In theaters: September 28, 1994
- On DVD or streaming: October 19, 2004
- Cast: Johnny Depp, Martin Landau, Patricia Arquette, Sarah Jessica Parker
- Director: Tim Burton
- Studio: Touchstone Pictures
- Genre: Comedy
- Run time: 127 minutes
- MPAA rating: R
- MPAA explanation: some strong language
- Last updated: March 31, 2022
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