Michael Keaton’s been in a lot of movies where his odd idiosyncrasies seem out of place. But not here. Beetlejuice is Keaton’s most fitting and most famous role. Any other attempt to be outlandish or quirky since then has just seemed like he’s trying to channel what he did for this movie.
And it’s an amazing one. Keaton plays Beetlejuice, a bio-exorcist–basically a guy who gets hired to by other ghosts to get rid of the living people who have moved into their dwelling places since they’ve died.
In this case, it’s Adam and Barbara Maitland (Alec Baldwin and Geena Davis). They drowned after their car drove off a bridge and they’re desperately trying to get rid of the Deetz family, who have since moved into their idyllic country home and are trying to remodel it as a post-modern art piece.
Seeing the world from the ghosts’ perspective is a fun take on the supernatural sub-genre. These folks are trying to adjust to being dead, but can’t quite figure it out. They try to “haunt” the Deetzes, but are really bad at being spooky.
The film doesn’t make death taboo, nor does it make light of the circumstance either. It’s very matter-of-fact, simply giving us a cool and somewhat fresh take on ghosts and the hereafter.
The Deetzes have a teenage daughter, Lydia (Winona Ryder), who can actually see the dead. She develops a deceptively deep relationship with Adam and Barbara–who were never able to have children of their own.
The stipulations surrounding Beetlejuice’s existence in this film universe are a bit ambiguous and vague, but that’s part of director Tim Burton‘s realistic approach to building that universe. He never forces exposition–for better or worse.
Most people forget that Burton directed Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure a few years prior to Beetlejuice, since the latter is more along the lines of the style he’s known for. You could maybe say that Beetlejuice even established that style for Burton, during a time when he was trying to figure it out, himself. Even then, there is nothing like Beetlejuice and there never will be.