Big Eyes tells the strange story of Margaret and Walter Keane and how her paintings made millions, but she never received any credit for her work. It is a tale that is perfectly suited to the stylings of Director Tim Burton and it is his best film in years.
Margaret (Amy Adams) was a struggling single mother and artist when she met Walter Keane (Christoph Waltz) in the late 1950s. While they were both artists, she was the far more talented of the two with her distinctive style of painting haunted-looking children with saucer-like eyes. Walter tried to get their art seen and when Margaret’s paintings are found to be popular, he presents himself as the artist. He also developed the concept of reproducing the art as cheap posters for public consumption and the Keanes reaped the benefits. Margaret goes along with the ruse for a long while—she has to take care of her daughter after all and this is long before the women’s lib movement. However, the lie begins to eat away at her soul and when Walter doesn’t find the critical acceptance he craves, he becomes more erratic and Margaret leaves him. Their court fight, which is so bizarre it must be true, over who made the paintings, is the highlight of the film.
Tim Burton is at his best with this one. It has equal parts comedy and drama and that weird element that lets you know it’s a Burton film. After so many years of dreck, it was refreshing to see him tackle as normal a subject as he’s ever done.
The biggest issue I had with the film is with the characters, but since they’re based on real people, I can’t really fault filmmakers. I found Walter to be utterly despicable and he gets worse and worse as the film goes on. Margaret is not much better as the audience watches her make concession after concession to this man. By the end, I was practically yelling at the screen for her to leave him or at least speak out. However, that was the time they lived in. As is pointed out, “lady art” didn’t sell and Margaret tried to comfort herself with the fact that at least her work was popular and being seen by millions. But her constant compromising drove me nuts.
Adams and Waltz are fantastic. Adams has become known for playing brassy ladies and to see her as a shrinking violet was a refreshing change. Waltz is certainly a charmer, which is the key to Walter’s success. The supporting cast is just as great with funny turns by Jason Schwartzman, Terence Stamp, Danny Huston, and Krysten Ritter.
Despite my minor quibbles, I greatly enjoyed Big Eyes. It’s a completely unbelievable story, which is why it’s great that it’s true. It’s nice to see Burton at the top of his game once again with this sweet, funny, and strange tale. Don’t let it get lost in the flood of holiday releases and check it out.